Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Last Christians In Turkey

Information on the photos can be found at the end of the post.

As everyone knows, the Pope has been visiting Turkey amidst all kinds of protests, expectations and warnings. As of this writing, Benedict XVI is favoring the entry of Turkey into the EU for reasons known only to him, although I believe I read somewhere that his counselors have told him it would bring about an "enrichment". That's rich, all right. But if we forget about the Pope on the grounds that the Vatican has been slipping for a long time into dhimmitude, what can we say about the Orthodox religious leaders in Turkey itself who WANT to see Europe expanded to include 80 million more Muslims? This abridgment of an article from Le Figaro describes the fears and concerns of the last Christians in Turkey: the Orthodox Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians:

If there is to be one last Christian he might be the one: François Yakan, patriarch of the tiny Assyrian-Chaldean community who works in the Beyoglu quarter of Istanbul in a building that was nearly destroyed by an Islamist suicide bomber attacking the Consulate of Great Britain in 2003. He is married to a Frenchwoman from Brittany: "Jesus and his apostles never imposed anything on the subject of marriage." Many of his flock fled to France, the "eldest daughter of the Church" during the '80's when violence broke out in southeast Anatolia between the Turkish army and the Kurdish rebels. "It is dangerous to be neutral in a war. Thousands of Christian Assyrians did not know where to find refuge, so they gathered in the city of Diyarbakir, then Istanbul and finally Western Europe. There are only 3 families left in Diyarbakir. It's all over for the Christians! A pity!" The number of Christian Assyrians in Turkey is down to 627 from 12,000 in 1980.

He is the only Turkish priest of this branch of the Orthodox churches and he evokes a glorious past, the missionary zeal along the Silk Road of the first Christians on their way to China. His patriarch, Emmanuel III Dely, lives barricaded in Bagdad. With Iraq ablaze and awash in blood, 3800 Christian Iraqis have come to istanbul to escape the death that stalks them on the streets of Basora, Mosul and Bagdad. Sunday morning they attend Mass in Aramaic, the language of Christ, in the Saint-Antoine church, the last Latin church built by the Franciscans before the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The Assyrian-Chaldeans favor the entry of Turkey into the EU because the reforms necessary for admission would reenforce their rights. This point of view is shared by the Orthodox Greeks of Le Fener, one of the oldest institutions of the Golden Horn, considered by millions of faithful throughout the world as their Vatican. The patriarch Bartholomew I is in conflict with Benedict XVI on this issue. His representative, Guenadios, bishop of Sasima points out that "Cardinal Ratzinger had declared his hostility to the entry of Turkey into Europe. But today he no longer speaks as a representative of the congregation for the faith - he has become Benedict XVI and we will listen attentively to what he says. The patriarch is amenable to admission in the European family, provided Turkey is ready."

The battle is far from over because Muslim fundamentalism and especially Turkish nationalism are impediments to the required respect for religious minorities. Guenadios, bishop of Sasima, does not have a work permit. He is considered as a "tourist". And Ankara refuses to grant the patriarch his title, by virtue of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Bartholomew I is requesting a special international church law to confront the problem of his dwindling flock, and to reopen, with the assistance of competent non-Turkish clergy, the theology school of Halki that was closed in 1971. This seminary on an island in the Sea of Marmara is an oasis of calm, covered with pine forests and Art Nouveau-style houses. The Orthodox Greeks are staking their survival on this charming site. In ten years, the older bishops will be gone and there won't be any local priests left.

According to one Orthodox intellectual: "relations are easier with the Islamists than with the nationalist groups. This is the case in Cappadocia where there are sacred Orthodox sites. There it is the Loups Gris (Grey Wolves) of the extreme-right who go after Christians, not the PJD (Party of Justice and Development).

Le Fener (a district of Istanbul) on the Bosphorus is protected by an old wall on the south bank. Its other walls are covered with barbed wire. A century ago the inhabitants of Le Fener were mainly Christian and spoke Armenian, Greek, Ladino (a Judeo-Spanish language), and Turkish. The area was the fief of Greek dignitaries, then of less wealthy Greeks, and today it is inhabited by wretched Anatolian peasants who came from villages of the interior.

The Greeks of Istanbul had been victims of ethnic and religious separation but had still managed to escape the population exchanges of 1924 when 1.3 million people were displaced between Greece and Turkey. They gave up, however after the pogrom of 1955 - Istanbul's Cristallnacht. In that year a hate-filled crowd tore into the Greek and Jewish ghettoes. The wealthy businessmen went into exile followed, in 1974, by everyone else, when the Cypriot crisis broke out. The "Rums" - Turks of Greek origin now number 3000.

Bartholomew I, patriarch of Constantinople, maintains complex relations marked by mistrust with his Latin Catholic rivals: "One must understand that we have come far. Things began to move with the Vatican II Council. When I arrived in Turkey in 1970, the Catholics and the Orthodox had just begun to speak to one another after centuries of anathema," recalls Monsignor Louis Pelâtre, the Vatican's representative in Istanbul.

In Turkey, the Pope's recent remarks on the violence of Islam caused irritation. The remarks were seen as an attack on the Eastern Christians who must face Islam on a daily basis. They revived the fear of being condemned to become a people without a land. The Assyrian-Chaldean François Yakan adds however: "The virulence of the Muslim reaction would seem to prove him (Benedict) right. And after all, the Pope is free to express his own opinion."

The Christian Armenians also have problems with the West, but unlike the Armenians of Europe they are not demanding Turkey recognize the genocide as a requirement for admission into the EU. Luiz Bakar, spokesman for the Armenian patriarch, states: "For us the most important problem - the recognition of our foundations - has been solved. Since 2002 we have been permitted to manage our real estate and to finance our schools." There are 80,000 Christian (Armenians) in Turkey. Over a million Armenians were massacred and deported in 1915. The coups of 1971 and 1980 triggered new departures. "A rebirth of democracy and well-being would induce the Turks of Armenian origin to stay home," says Luiz Bakar.

This year Luiz Bakar will celebrate Christmas and the epiphany on June 6, a short while after the Orthodox Easter. In the interim non-Muslim Turkish citizens will continue to demand that they not be treated as foreigners in their own country. The Pope's visit, for them, is a test that will measure the capacity for tolerance of a nation where being a minority has not always been easy.

I found this article both enlightening and confusing for several reasons. First, we get a glimpse into the thinking of the Orthodox Christians, but I'm not at all sure they all want Turkey in the EU. Only ignorance or naïveté could lead these Christians to believe that somehow Europe will protect their rights and make it safer for them to live in Turkey. Will there really BE a Europe, if Turkey enters? Won't the malfunctioning European systems collapse completely under the weight of 80 million more Muslims to add to the 17 or so million already in Europe?

Second, Le Figaro, in its detached objectivity, manages to arouse hope that things will really be better for these Christians when they are living in a European country. We hear their voices longing for democracy and well-being and rights. They regard Europe as a kind of El Dorado of rights - but look at Europe's dhimmitude, and the dhimmitude of the Catholic Church. Don't these Orthodox leaders realize that their faithful members, instead of being supported and strengthened, may be thrown to the wolves by the Europeans who have a history of indifference to the Eastern Christians?

The photos are by Dutchman Dick Osseman who has over 12,000 very beautiful photos at his website. The primary link to the site is here. You can click any of the active links to the various galleries for a wealth of stunning images of Turkey. Lovers of photography should take a look.

The top photo is from the "Istanbul" gallery and is a scene of the Kyz Kulesi lighthouse on the Bosphorus.

The middle photo is from the "Antakya Museum" gallery and shows a damaged mosaic of a Roman athlete.

The bottom photo show the splendid interior of the Fatih mosque in Istanbul. It is from the "December 2004" gallery.

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At November 30, 2006 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually between 1915-1918 one third (750.000) Assyrians who lived in the Hakkari mountains in Turkey which is south-eastern Turkey were massacred along side the Armenians and the Pontic Greeks but as the focus went to the Armenians who until recently used to deny the Genocide of the Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.

The Assyrians who are the indigenous inhabitants of what's today known as Iraq also inhabited that part of Turkey since before the fall of Assyria and they were the first to embrace Christianity in the first century A.D. with their Assyrian king Abgar V of Edessa(the word is Greek but the original Assyrian name of the kingdon is Urhai which means the city of Life and the Turks re-named it Urfa).

The number of Assyrians dwindled in their original lands due to massacres and persecution.

At December 01, 2006 2:04 PM, Blogger tiberge said...

Valuable information and I thank you for it. I was aware of the Pontic Greeks but I had either forgotten or never known how numerous the Assyrians were in that region. The Figaro article centered on more recent statistics. That's a great omission on their part.

Any clues as to why the Armenians have denied the other massacres in the past? Was it a kind of racial mythologizing? Did they want the attention of the world all to themselves? Or had they been in conflict themselves with the Assyrians and the Greeks?

If they acknowledge the facts today there can only be one reason - they can no longer get away with denial.

The article indicates that the Armenians are the most adjusted to life in Turkey. They have a history of both conflict and accommodation with the Turks. During the massacres the Armenian Church did not do all it might have to save its own people and many Armenians at the time converted to Protestantism, thanks to Protestant missionaries who helped them get out of Turkey.

At December 07, 2006 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Armenians wanted to be recognized as the only Christians who were massacred in Turkey when the facts of history say that the Armenians came to that area later on while the Assyrians were there before the fall of their capital Nineveh in 612 B.C. when 10 of the Assyrian army leaders went and established a lesser kingdom which came to be known for the Greeks as the kingdom of Edessa (The original Assyrian name of the city is Urhai(Ur=city and hai=life) today the Turks know it as Urfa.

The Armenians wanted the sympathy and recognition to be focused on them only.

Assyrians for years worked in order to shed light on the Genocide which affected them and they always mentioned the Armenians and the Pontic Greels finally their efforts succeeded in getting the attention of some Armenian researchers who admitted that the Armenians weren't the only Christians massacred.

The recognition should go to all the victims regardless but un fortunately till today the Assyrian Genocide is still not known widely and it's through education,awareness and tireless efforts that such a calamity must not be forgotten.

The Assyrians paid and still are paying a heavy price for who they are and what they hope for is for justice to be served.

Thank you for your interest and your original post which allowed this exchange.


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