Turkey: relationships with Greece, Syria impact regional ministry

By February 27, 2018

Turkey (MNN) – Since the failed coup in Turkey two years ago, we’ve been covering the internal political crackdown and the rising religious intolerance. However, today we’re going to step back and consider how these internal trends are affecting ministry and the region.

Recently, Gatestone Institute published an article suggesting that Turkey is threatening to invade Greece and start a war in a dispute over the Aegean islands. It’s a pretty startling claim, and so we talked with Tasos Ioannidis of AMG International to get his take on the situation.

For several reasons, Ioannidis says he doesn’t believe that either invasion or war is imminent.

For starters, the international pressure on these two nations is extreme. Not only are they both part of NATO, but Ioannidis adds, “Parties like the US are putting a lot of pressures on Turkey and Greece to basically not let the situation get out of hand.” Turkey is also trying to stay in good favor with European nations in order to join the European Union.

Secondly, the cost of war would be far too great to enter into lightly. Ioannidis says even though Greece may be weakened financially, they have a strong military. The war would be costly on both sides.

Still, the two nations have a complicated relationship. Ioannidis explains:

“Greece and Turkey have a long history that goes back centuries. It goes all the way to when Greece was under Ottoman rule. And Greece gained independence from Turkey in 1821. And then there were a number of wars over the next 100 years, the last one being in the early 1920’s at which time there were a lot of Greeks that were displaced from Turkey, more than 1.5 million, and then a number of Turks were displaced from Greece.”

In other words, there is bad blood between the two nations, even though things have largely settled down in the last century. Even so, Turkey’s actions continue to impact Greece.

“In more recent years the situation has stabilized, they are both members of NATO. Turkey has tried to enter the European Union. But of course, in the last couple of years, things in Turkey have been quite unstable after the attempted coup against President Erdogan.”

If you recall, this coup has been followed by years of crackdown against thousands of perceived political enemies. People have been removed from political offices, professors have been arrested, and so on. Many people even fled to Greece for political asylum, Ioannidis says. But they weren’t the only ones.

Since the refugee crisis began, refugees from both Afghanistan and Syria have traveled through Turkey into Greece. For a long time, there was no regulation to the flow. But about a year ago, Tasos reminds us, an agreement between the EU and Turkey helped stem the flow, but not stop it completely. The refugee population has put even more strain on an already financially taxed nation.

And this brings us to another, related point: Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian war.

“Turkey, in addition to the situation with Greece that goes back a long time, has also had ongoing issues with the very large Kurdish minority in the southeastern part of Turkey. And, of course, the Kurds are also in Syria, they are in Iran, and they are in Iraq.”

Ioannidis explains that with the recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, some Kurdish areas are becoming more autonomous.  Turkey feels threatened by this independence, believing the Kurdish population in Turkey will follow suit. And so, they’re making this international statement against Kurds in Syria.

But they have experienced great loss, more than they anticipated.

Ioannidis says it’s possible that the latest tensions between Turkey and Greece are simply a way for Turkey to draw attention away from their costly war in Syria.

“Part of the reason that they are more aggressive in other areas is to mobilize the nationalist sentiments among their own population and draw some attention away from what is happening in Syria.”

Turkey’s actions impact ministry

Since the refugee crisis began impacting Greece, AMG has been reaching out to help with physical and societal needs as well as to proclaim the Gospel to refugees. Turkey’s actions have a direct impact on this ministry in Greece. But their ministry within Turkey itself has also been impacted.

“In the last couple of years, it has become more difficult. Again, there is a rise in nationalist sentiment. There is a rise of Islamists in Turkey. So this is placing greater pressure on the ministry there. It is not the point where it is hindered from happening, but it has become increasingly more difficult and more challenging.”

AMG has been working in Turkey for more than 25 years.

“It has been a very productive ministry using media, using the internet, using Bible correspondence courses. Our partners there have been very effective in proclaiming the Gospel. We have seen a number of people being reached through the Good News and become part of local churches in Turkey. So it has been a very effective ministry.

(Photo courtesy of AMG International)

“The situation presents both challenges and opportunities. The opportunities exist with the ongoing ministry that is taking place in Turkey and also the refugees that are coming out of Turkey which has been a very fertile field to help both practically and to reach spiritually. We are seeing a lot of fruit among refugees.

“So I would ask the listeners and the readers to pray both for the outreach that is taking place among refugees that are living in Turkey, and also for the ongoing ministry in Turkey.”

Pray that the doors to ministry would remain open in both these nations, that the media outreach would continue to be a viable way to reach people with the Gospel, and that people would continue to respond. Ask God to give AMG’s co-workers boldness as they face the increasing challenges. Ask him to provide the resources necessary to continue these ministries.

Altogether, Ioannidis says, these situations are creating an uncertain future.

“Long-term, Turkey is becoming increasingly Islamist. So that is to me is the biggest concern, how that’s going to impact both the stability of the region and also the opportunities for ministry remains to be seen. But it is likely to get more challenging on both of these fronts, so be praying for that.”

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