Turks accused of killing Christians go on trial
This is not some middle-eastern Islamic fundamentalist country tyrannically presided over by a mad mullah, but a country that professes the virtues of secularism, practises democracy, preaches the tolerance of the Enlightenment, and aspires to join the Christian community of nations known as the European Union. The country is Turkey, which Jack Straw is insisting must be admitted to the Union to prove that 'Christian and Muslims can live together'.
The victims (true martys) were Tilmann Geske, a German father of three; Necati Aydin, a church pastor and convert from Islam; and Ugur Yuksel, who was also a Turkish convert. They were all members of a Protestant missionary group and were murdered in a Bible publishing house while they were holding a Bible study class. The trial has now begun of the five men, all aged 19-20, who stand accused of the crime.
As heinous as this crime was, it is by no means an isolated incident. Over recent years, priests and other Christians have been attacked and harassed, churches have been fire-bombed, and journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead by a 17-year-old for daring to mention Turkey’s mass killing of Armenians in 1915. Hatred towards Christians – who constitute less than 1% of the population - has been actively cultivated and is directly linked to the resurgence in nationalism. And Turkey's 99% majority Muslim population was achieved how, precisely? Constantinople in 1914 was 50% non-Muslim, and Turkey as a whole was about 24% non-Muslim. What does Jack Straw think happened to all those non-Muslims - Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Levantines of every description?
This trial is being seen a test case to assess Turkey's willingness to tackle growing signs of religious intolerance which is seeking to eradicate the last Christians from the country. But while the resentment festers and the hatred continues to be spouted by the families of the accused, the wife of one of the victims, whose children are said to remain inconsolable, talks of forgiveness: "It's not these five young men I am asking to be punished,” she said, “But the mentality behind them."
Yet this mentality is engrained in the Turkish psyche, which remains suspicious of any Christian missionary activity. Pushing hard for EU accession, Ankara has legalised missionary activity and relaxed legal restrictions on the opening of new churches, but the rise in Westophobia continues apace. Canon Ian Sherwood of Istanbul’s Anglican church observes: ‘You live in a world of shadows, looking over your shoulder all the time. There are certain historic sensitivities one should respect in Turkey but this is also a country that professes to be a secular democracy and yet innocent individuals are persecuted for pursuing what they would be allowed to do in any other free society.’
Indeed. But Turkey is not free, and Turkey is now led by a man who as recently as 1999 declared: ‘The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers...’
All of which sounds like an excellent strategy for EU accession.