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Syrian-Orthodox-Church-Diyarbakir

The 1,700-year-old Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir was one of the churches seized. Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration recently seized six churches as state property in the volatile southeastern part of Turkey. As World Watch Monitor reports:

After 10 months of urban conflict in Turkey’s war-torn southeast, the government has expropriated huge sections of property, apparently to rebuild and restore the historical centre of the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir.But to the dismay of the city’s handful of Christian congregations, this includes all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. Unlike the state-funded mosques, Turkey’s ancient church buildings – some of which pre-date Islam – have been managed, historically, by church foundations.

Because of this move, the churches in Diyarbakir now factually belong to the state. This includes a church that was built 1,700 years ago, and a new one, built in 2003.

Earlier this year the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Western United States published a photo of one of the seized churches writing: "Our Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Maryam Ana), in Diyarbakir - Turkey, had been attacked a few days ago. The wall of the Church was hit with explosives, our dear priest father Yusuf Akbulut with his wife were threatened in their home in the court of the church." Earlier this year the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Western United States published a photo of one of the seized churches writing: “Our Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Maryam Ana), in Diyarbakir – Turkey, had been attacked a few days ago. The wall of the Church was hit with explosives, our dear priest father Yusuf Akbulut with his wife were threatened in their home in the court of the church.”

It’s always problematic when a state takes over churches, but that’s even more the case in a Muslim majority country, which Turkey is: 99% of Turks are Muslim. What makes matters even more troubling is that the current president, Erdoğan, isn’t merely an authoritarian ruler, but also an Islamist.

Most criticism of Erdoğan nowadays is directed at his horrendous policy towards ISIS (he’s credited with helping ISIS grow, either by arming the group directly or by allowing it to grow because it undermined Syrian President Bashar al-Assad), his horrific treatment of critical journalists, or his war on the PKK, which many people believe to be a war on the Kurdish people. I don’t agree with the latter, but with regards to the first two points, his critics are completely right. The church seizures are just one more reason to tell Erdoğan enough is enough.

Ted Cruz’s foreign policy advisor, Victoria Coates, told PJ Media the seizure fits into a pattern in the Middle East, where Christians are systematically displaced and persecuted. Although Erdoğan for a long time got away with his authoritarian and Islamist tendencies, times are a-changing. Coates said American Republicans aren’t happy with Erdoğan’s self-declared “New Turkey.” She noted that Turkey’s seizure of the churches in Diyarbakir fits into a wider pattern in the Middle East. “What’s happening in southern Turkey is all too typical in the Middle East today, as ancient Christian communities are displaced and persecuted by sectarian violence,” she said.

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