Attack on Turkish church signals further nationalist tensions

By staff writers
January 28, 2007

Hours after a nationalist protester with a handgun made an attempt to hijack a commuter ferry in the Dardanelles strait on 27 January 2007, unidentified attackers stoned at a church in the northern Turkish town of Samsun today (Sunday), the Anatolian news agency has reported.

There were no casualties, according to Mehmet Orhan Picakcilar, a priest at the Agape Church. "This does damage to Turkey. This attack depicts [our country] in a bad way before international public opinion," he commented

Nationalists have been angered by pro-Armenian sentiment in Turkey following responses to the murder of the Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink on 19 January, which prompted large pro-Armenian protests.

Dink was among those, including church groups, who have tried to speak out about the 1915 Armenian genocide, which claimed one million lives. It is illegal in Turkish law to raise this issue, and the authorities deny that the event happened.

A rise in nationalism among young people from Turkey's Black Sea towns has come under the spotlight since the teenager suspected of killing Dink and his alleged supporters were found to have come from the town of Trabzon.

A Catholic priest was killed in his church in Trabzon in February 2006 by a Turkish teenager. The killing was believed to have been part of protests in Islamic countries against cartoons in Danish newspapers that mocked Prophet Mohammad.

Christians in secular but Muslim-majority Turkey - Armenians, Greeks, Syriacs, Catholics, some Evangelical denominations and Jehovah's Witnesses - make up less than one percent of the country's 72 million people.

The country, now 99 per cent Muslim, has a significant Christian past going back two millennia.

After Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, his followers scattered across the ancient world. What is now called Turkey was a key crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the fledgling Christian faith took hold in what was then a Roman province with a rich Greek heritage.

Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union has caused controversy in relation o its record on human rights and its religious and cultural profile.

The Catholic Church and others have argued that Turkish membership of the EU would compromise the continent’s largely Christian heritage. Secularists fear a country with another large religious majority.

But those who favour Turkish inclusion point to the collapse of Christendom in Europe, the significance of minority traditions, the desirability of handling civil rights questions within a regional framework of law, and the need to challenge both Islamist and neoconservative attempts to buttress a “clash of civilizations”.

Pope Benedict, formerly strongly against Turkey’s accession, which analysts say is still a long way off, seems to have moderated and even changed his view following a recent visit to the country – and the fallout from his own misjudged speech on Islam, Christianity and reason in Germany.

Keywords:turkish | Turkey | Pope | nationalism | EU
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