Churches keep pressure on Turkey over brutal killings

By staff writers
May 3, 2007

In a strongly-worded letter addressed this week to the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland, the head of the World Council of Churches has said the "savage murders" of three Christians in Malatya on 18 April are "the latest tragedy" in a series of "killings and other threats directed at members and leaders of religious minorities" in the country.

The Rev Dr Samule Kobia says that these murders are of "serious concern" and cause "deep revulsion" and "dismay". The WCC general secretary has told Turkish authorities that "churches and citizens are watching the authorities in the case [of the three murdered Christians] to see that justice is done and that further crimes are prevented".

The letter contains a "regrettable list" of crimes that "appear to be motivated by hatred for whole groups of people". The list includes the killings of the Armenian writer Hrant Dink and of the Catholic priest Fr Andrea Santano.

In addition to that, a series of incidents entailing threats and violence against members of religious minorities are also mentioned. The latter includes "news reports of plots against the lives of the heads of two WCC member churches in Turkey," namely Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II.

Echoing the "sense of alarm in churches and among people of goodwill around the world," the WCC general secretary affirms that the appropriate governmental authorities should "ensure the respect for human rights and for the rule of law which safeguards all citizens, including these whose cases we raise here". In particular, writes Kobia, "we look to see respect for human dignity - socially, politically and religiously - reflected in the treatment of churches and other religious minorities".

While acknowledging the "explicit condemnation of such killings by government officials" as an "important positive factor" as well as the government's support of "the freedom of religion stipulated by the constitution of Turkey," the letter also affirms that "progress toward addressing these concerns" would be in line with Turkey's "unique history" and contribution "toward peace in a pluralistic world".

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