Turkish Faithful Fight to Dispel Anti-Christian Myths
After the slayings and recent burials of three Christian men who were attacked at a Christian publishing house in Turkey, the small Turkish Christian population now faces the obstacle of dispelling harmful Christian myths that some fear could lead to more violence against believers.
The Christian community in Turkey, which makes up less than one percent of the population, has long been viewed with suspicion by the Muslim dominated society.
"Missionary activities" are commonly misrepresented on Turkish media as a foreign plot to divide Turkish society, according to the World Evangelical Alliance.
In light of this, the Rev. Johan Candelin, executive director of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission, said that Turkish Christians are urging the Turkish government to tell the nation that Protestant work does not have a political mission but only a spiritual one. The Christian community also wants the Turkish government to affirm that a Christian Church is beneficial in a secular society.
Last Wednesday, three Christian Bible distributor workers were brutally killed in the southeastern city of Malatya – hometown of many Turkish nationalists including Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Two of the victims – Necati Aydin, 36, and Ugur Yuksel, 32 – were the first known Turkish martyrs who converted from Islam since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, according to Compass Direct News.
The third victim was German missionary Tilmann Geske, 46, who has lived for 10 years in Turkey.
The three were tortured hours before being killed by having their throats slit, according to International Christian Concern.
Since the killings and the arrest of a dozen suspects, the widow of the German missionary has said on Turkish national television that she forgives the killers. The media has also reported extensively on the Christians' funerals and the hope of the believers despite the lost of love ones.
One of the murdered, Aydin, had played the role of Jesus in the Easter stage play televised on TURK-7's Easter-season programming just one week before the tragedy.
"Aydin, a man who portrayed Jesus on one of our broadcasts, was himself the target of religious hatred simply because he worked so that others would have a chance to understand the story of Christ in Turkish," commented Terence Ascott, SAT-7 CEO, in response to the Turkish murders.
Similar to WEA, SAT-7 – a Christian satellite network ministry broadcasting in the Middle East and North Africa – raised concerns about helping viewers, many which are Muslims, through its programming to better understand Christianity in response to the killings.
TURK-7 broadcasts on SAT-7 PARS, a part of the Christian satellite network.
WEA's Candelin pointed out that the tragic situation has given a unique opportunity for Christians to share the Gospel of forgiveness with the Muslim-dominated Turkish nation.
"Be assured that the followers of Jesus around the world stand with you in prayer and love and that the suffering you feel is felt by the global body of Jesus Christ today," he said to the Christian community in Turkey.
Since last year, Turkish youths have killed a Roman Catholic priest while he prayed in a church in Trabzon, threatened other priests and killed a prominent Armenian Christian editor in Istanbul.
The latest violence comes ahead of presidential elections next month, a contest that highlights fears among Turkey's secular establishment that a candidate from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, or even Erdogan himself, could win the job and strengthen Islamic influence on the government.