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Turkey's Jihad Against Christians

byJohn Ballantyne, editor of the Endeavour Forum Newsletter

Christians make up less than 0.5 per cent of Turkey's population, yet they have been singled out for increasing persecution under the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ever since Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to dominate Turkish politics in 2003, Christians have been routinely maligned as an unpatriotic fifthe column and a grave threat to national cohesion.

The worsening plight of Christians in Turkey is symptomatic of Erdogan's long-term program to promote political Islam and religious radicalisation in his country.

But, even more serious, his oppression of Christians is an ominous reminder of how, more than a century ago, Turkey and its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire, persecuted and massacred its Christian minorities.

Before that time, Christians had amounted to 20 per cent of the Turkish population. Between 1915 and 1917, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished, either massacred by Turkish troops or starved to death.

Two Israeli historians, Benny Morris and Dror Ze'evi, in their study The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey's Destruction of its Christian minorities, 1894 - 1924 (Harvard University Press, 2019), have argued that the tragic fate of the Armenians was not an isolated event, but part of a deliberate 30-year program of genocide perpetrated by Turkey, between 1894 and 1924, against its Christian minorities, including Greeks and Syrians.

For much of the period since 1924, Turkey has had a secular, modernist form of government.

During the Cold War, Turkey's powerful armed forces and its control of the Bospurus and Dardanelles Straits – the only access to the Mediterranean Sea for the then Soviet Union and its communist Romanian and Bulgarian satellites – meant that the country was particularly valued as an ally of the West. Even today, Turkey has the second-largest army in NATO.

In the past, standing in the way of religious extremists seeking to Islamise Turkey has been the army, the historic defenders of the Republic of Turkey's secular constitution.

Since 2003, however, the country has been transformed out of recognition. Erdogan has effectively neutralised the army's constitutional role by purging the military and appointing new officers loyal to his vision of an Islamised Turkey.

Hand-in-hand with Erdogan's promotion of militant Islam has been an upsurge in his government's persecution of Turkey's minuscule Christian minority.

Pastors frequently receive anonymous death threats. Most churches need to fortify themselves with high walls and to hire guards to protect their premises around the clock. Some years ago, Turkey's National Security Council singled out Protestant missionaries as the third-largest threat facing the nation (Anne Christine Hoff, Middle East Forum, Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer 2018).

During his time in office, Ergodan has reportedly built 17,000 mosques (one fifth of Turkey's total). He has greatly enlarged Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet), which pays the salaries of the country's 110,000 Muslim clerics and dictates the contents of their religious teachings.

According to Italian political commentator Giolio Meotti, the Diyanet "now has 120,000 employees and a budget the size of 12 other ministries combined". Meotti adds that "in 2004, with 72,000 employees, the Diyanet was about half that size." (Gatestone Institute, November 9, 2019)

Fr Mario Alexis Portella, author of Islam: Religion of Peace? The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up (Westbow Press, 2018), describes how the Diyanet operates a sinister agency called the "liquidation committee". It's task is to confiscate and redistribute the property of Christian institutions, while all the time loudly denying that this is as a result of religious discrimination.

Fr Portella reports: "In June 2017, under the surveillance of President Erdogan, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs seized control of at least 50 Syrian churches, monasteries and cemeteries in the Mardin province."

He goes on to remark: "Erdogan has practically undone the secularisation and religious freedom established in 1924 by Kemal Mustafa Atatürk when he abolished the 1,300-year caliphate that essentially left the political lineage of the Prophet of Islam unclaimed. By reigniting Islamic-Turkish nationalism, observance of the sharia has subtly resumed. In doing so, Erdogan has incited a jihad against Christianity, simultaneously targeting Kurds, Yazidis and Shi'i." (Crisis Magazine, Nov. 21, 2019)

Erdogan has poured scorn on the West's fond hope that there is such a thing as moderate Islam. He asserts, "There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam."

His rhetoric leaves little doubt of how he interprets Islam. In December 1998, when he was mayor of Istanbul and an opposition politician, Erdogan declared, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers", quoting a line from a poem from a 19th-century forebrand nationalist poet, Ziya Gokalp.

In July 2017, according to Anne Christine Hoff, Turkey's Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz announced that the country's government schools would henceforth include in their religious teaching curriculum the concept of holy war, or jihad (Middle East Forum, Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer 2018).

Erdogan's embrace of militant Islam is by no means purely a domestic affair. It has serious international ramifications as well. According to Giulio Meotti, under Erdogan, Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) has expanded its role to establish bridgeheads in European countries to project Turkey's Islamist mission.

Meotti writes: "Erdogan has spies throughout Europe through a network of mosques, associations and cultural centres. Through four million Turkish Muslims in Germany and vast communities in the Netherlands, France, Austria and beyond, Erdogan does indeed have enormous influence in Europe". (Gatestone Institute, November 9, 2019)

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