Turkey (MNN) – Since the failed coup in July 2016, Christians in Turkey have seen a spike in religious persecution, including higher pressures and attacks on believers and Christian churches.
Recent Attack in Turkey
Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern shares about the most recent attack attempt from this past Sunday, February 4, 2018. “It was reported that a homemade pipe bomb was placed in the garden of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon. The alarm was raised and the object was found partially burned and it hadn’t exploded. It failed to explode, clearly. And, it’s noted that the incident coincided with the anniversary of the murder of Father Andrea Santoro of Santa Maria Church.”
Santoro, an Italian Roman Catholic priest, was murdered on February 5, 2006, by a Muslim youth.
Windsor notes intimidation and persecution of Christians like Santoro’s murder rose during 2006, 2007, and 2008. This is similar to how they have risen again in the last two years.
“It certainly feels that once again, Christians are feeling under pressure, feeling certainly, a sense of uncertainty, and discomfort at the moment, to put it mildly. And I think that is partly a result of the general situation in Turkey and picture politically,” Windsor says.
Persecution at a Government Level
Over the last two years, President Erdogan has used the political instability from the failed coup to unite Turkey under Islam, particularly the Sunni Muslims.
“[President Erdogan] has an agenda which seems to be very nationalistic, an agenda that seems to be quite Islamist, shall we say. And for those who don’t fit into his idea of what Turkey should be like in terms of the make-up ethnically and religiously, we’ve seen a squeeze on them.”
To many, being Turkish and being a Muslim go hand-in-hand. Converting to another religion is viewed as betraying not only Islam but the very nation of Turkey itself. It is corruption on a national and religious level.
As a result of the religious nationalism President Erdogan has instilled, members of religious minorities have been susceptible to the intimidation and attacks from both the government and society because they are socially regarded as treasonous.
According to Middle East Concern, the attempted attack on Santa Maria Church is just one of the many “worrying incidents” Christians have faced over recent months.
Among the rising pressures, death threats were made against the pastor and a church worker at Balikesir Protestant Church in December. Furthermore, believers and churches have been directly pointed out and criticized in Turkish press sources, which Middle East Concern says have been “an attempt to incite unrest and opposition.”
The press has acted as a tool to stir hatred in society, resulting in persecution at a local level.
“Government influence on the press is significant,” Windsor says. “The press, especially on the local level seems to be very quick to point fingers at Christians in the community to incite hatred against Christians in the community, and we’re seeing this have an impact at a societal level.”
Persecution at a Local Level
Like in the recent bombing attempt at Santa Maria Church, and the murder of Santoro, intimidation has often come from members of society. “It’s not simply direct government pressure on Christians,” Windsor says. “But societal pressure on the Church can be linked back to government attitudes.”
He notes the persecution from both the government and society are interwoven. But, certainly, not everyone has taken actions against believers. Many have supported them.
“In some ways, one would say that the response from locals, police force, and security, in relation to the most recent attack on the Christian community, was something to be encouraged by. They seemed to be taking it seriously and be concerned by it.”
Act with Middle East Concern
Middle East Concern is also taking the attempted attack on Santa Maria Church seriously. They are monitoring the actions and further intimidation directed towards individual Christians and churches. Still, they remain encouraged.
Windsor says believers in Turkey are resilient and living to serve Jesus despite the persecution and suffering they face.
“We are concerned to encourage prayer that such attacks don’t continue, that any attacks that are made aren’t in any way successful, that God would thwart the hand of those who would seek to do harm to Turkey’s Christian community.”