Christian group demands Turkish authorities answer question about alleged plot to kill pastors

A man waves Turkey's national flag during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, on November 12, 2016. | Reuters/Umit Bektas

The U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called on the government of Turkey to investigate a claim that the country’s security officials offered to pay an ultranationalist  “whatever he wanted” in return for assassinating church leaders.

Last month, an ultranationalist man, identified only as Tolgahan A., confessed to Vedat Serin, a leader of the Salvation Church in the eastern city of Malatya, that members of Turkey’s Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terror Unit offered him “whatever he wanted” if he killed Serin and two other Christian leaders — former pastor Tim Stone and Pastor Ihsan Özbek, the chair of Kurtuluş Churches Association, CSW said in a statement.

The man, allegedly connected to the Nationalist Movement Party, was given the addresses and photos of Serin and the others, Ahval News reported, adding that he was also given a gun and sent to the church with a friend. But when they saw a little boy playing with a computer inside, they left.

A separate murder attempt was called off following the murder of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in the capital, Ankara, in December 2016.

In April 2007, two Turkish converts from Islam and a German citizen from Serin’s church were attacked, tortured and murdered in a publishing house by five ultranationalists assailants. Tolgahan A. had reportedly praised the murder on social media at the time.

Although the would-be assassin had been ordered to assassinate the Christian leaders around 2015-'16, only recently was a complaint filed at the Malatya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office after Tolgahan A. confessed to the alleged plot.

“Whilst we are relieved that plans to assassinate these church leaders ultimately ended in failure, the allegation that they were orchestrated by elements within Turkey’s security apparatus is deeply concerning,” CSW’s CEO Scot Bower said.

“Even though several years have passed since these assassination attempts, it is essential that the Turkish government acts on the disturbing information which has come to light and conducts a full and swift investigation into these claims, with particular attention paid to identifying and holding to account any members of JITEM who are identified as having been involved,” Bower added.

Turkey has a long history of Christian persecution, and its government still refuses to admit that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide of Christian Armenians in 1915.

Turkey is 99% Muslim, according to its own statistics. Although its constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government uses regulations that demand the registration of religious groups to make it more difficult to practice non-Islamic faiths. Hatred toward Christians and Jews in the country often leads to discrimination, stigmatization and attacks.

In July 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned the Hagia Sophia, an ancient Christian cathedral, from a museum into a mosque, undoing its transformation in 1934 from a mosque to a cathedral.

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