Turkish Nationalist Highlights Missionaries

A Turkish organisation has produced yet another report designed to fan paranoia about missionaries. The New Anatolian reports:

There’s more missionary activity in Istanbul than anywhere else in the country and the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses is on the rise, according to a recent Ankara Chamber of Trade and Commerce (ATO) report.

…Stating there are an overall some 50,000 Christian communities in Turkey, the report added that outside Istanbul Christians have over 300 places of worship, numerous bookstores, one library, six periodicals, dozens of foundations, numerous printing houses, five radio stations, several monasteries, two cafes, one gathering place, six commercial companies, one hotel, one translation office, seven newspapers, two museums, and dozens of associations dedicated to missionary activity. Underlining that in 2003 alone there were 190 instances of missionary activity, the report said that the Bahais were responsible for 27 of them, adding that the Bahais concentrate on Sivas and Erzincan, while Christians tend to focus on Nevsehir, Adiyaman, Adana, Bursa, Diyarbakir and Mersin. The report listed the various groups in Turkey involved in missionary activity as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahais, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox.

The report includes the following details:

Protestants: Their headquarters are in Schormdorf, Germany. In Ankara there’s the Turkish Protestant Churches Union as well as 19 other Protestant churches established in 2000.

…Orthodox: They’ve been attempting to create an Orthodox separatist movement in the Eastern Black Sea region since the 1980s

…the activities of the Protestant community are organized by the 10 Protestant churches linked to Kurtulus church in Balgat, adding that they distribute books and leaflets to the public in Ankara.

This comes just over a year after a report on the same theme was produced by the Turkish army; I discussed that at the time. That report also claimed that Christians were involved in separatist activities on the Black Sea; the far-right Grey Wolves have made the same allegation, and this was probably a factor in the recent murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro.

The Ankara Chamber of Trade and Commerce is the mouthpiece of Sinan Aygun, a prominent Turkish nationalist. Last year the Orthodox Patriarch himself was the target for his ire:

Leaders of Orthodox churches across the world gathered in Istanbul yesterday for a rare meeting to discuss whether or not to stop recognizing the embattled patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I…Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos, recognized by the participating Orthodox leaders as the “ecumenical patriarch,” presided over the synod.

…In Turkey, nationalist critics say his acting as “ecumenical patriarch” is a breach of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, on which the independent Republic of Turkey was established.

Sinan Aygün, who heads the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO), issued a call to state prosecutors to launch an investigation into the Orthodox meeting, which he called “a Christian Shariah tribunal.”

“The Patriarchate has no authority to bring together representatives of other churches and hold a religious trial. This is a breach of the Turkish Constitution and of the Lausanne Treaty,” Aygün said in a statement.

…Outside the meeting hall, about a dozen nationalist protestors shouted slogans and waved Turkish flags, accusing Bartolomeos of trying to form an independent state like the Vatican inside Turkey.

(The murky circumstances surrounding the Irineos dispute, meanwhile, have been covered by me here).

Soon afterwards, Aygun made news when he arranged for a DVD denying the Armenian genocide to be distributed through Time magazine:

A DVD attached to latest number of Time edition published in US denies the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey at the beginning of last century. The DVD recorded in Turkey informs that the “events of 1915 in Turkey was not genocide but exile and the Turkish authorities provided the Armenians with the daily meal and often they were fed better than the Turkish escort.” The film authors presented former Minister of Interior Talaat Pasha as a national hero. Azerbaijani representative in the film assures that Armenians, who once annihilated Turks, are annihilating Azeris at present. The film tells that “Armenians fought for Hitler and then committed terrorist acts against Turkish diplomats.” Head of the Turkish Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sinan Aygun informed that the film was shot thanks to $1 million collected as donation and the shooting lasted for half a year. This week 500 000 Europeans will watch the film, IA Regnum reports.

Time later apologized for “a one-sided view of history that does not meet our standards for fairness and accuracy”. In 2001 Aygun attempted to organise a boycott against France when the country officially recognised the genocide; in 2004 he tried to have Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies banned when the governor declared 24 April as the official memorial date.

Aygun is also a prominent Euro-sceptic, and he has complained that

Europe…did not treat Turkey the same way it is treating other applicants.

In particular, he has spoken against any plans for Turkey to withdraw from Cyprus in return for EU membership, and he is unhappy that the Kurdish PKK and the Marxist DHKP-C are not included on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.

Sinan also favours Turkish involvement with Iraq. A report on the Iraq News Wire from 2002 relates that:

In a meeting held by the Iraqi Turkoman Intellectuals’ Association…President of [the] Turkish Chamber of Commerce in Ankara Sinan Aygun mentioned the efforts to establish a Kurdish state in the region and said: ‘With God’s will, we will take the lost territory back. We would want nothing but to have Mossul and Kirkuk back as our land.’

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

(Name variations: Ankara Trade House; Ankara Trade Chamber)