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Religion and Society

Christian in Turkey: Denied citizens

Interview with Msgr. Ruggero Franceschini

 

Conducted by Maria Laura Conte

 

 

Who is behind the young people responsible for the killings of Christians in Turkey? Who motivates them and supplies them with arms?

 

 

It is a very complex issue. Broadly speaking it is due to the generalized exaltation of race and a false concept of laicism. If they were truly secular, then schools would tolerate and respect children of different religious beliefs. Conversely, we are faced with an education system which, although emphasising the country’s importance, has for years overshadowed Turkey’s historical and geographical worth while remaining adamant in its emphasis of the country’s military successes and in its obligatory teaching of the Koran in all schools – instruction which is often carried out by people who are not qualified to do so.

 

The objective is to negate Christianity, or to undermine its worth by means of inferences which are both simplistic and groundless (for example, the four Gospels are presented as nothing other than a personal account of what Jesus did and said; they lose importance and are reduced to a story of pure invention….)

 

This is dished out to the students with a garnish of hatred and violence which may have no effect on some, while for others it provokes and nourishes opposition which is both extreme and venomous. Thus, nationalists and Islamists have a free rein in manipulating opposition, which may be latent or unprofessed.

 

In a matter of days an otherwise placid population - especially those who are easily influenced -

 

can transform into a violent mob. All this is to their advantage, considering that even those who have relationships with Turkey have never raised any objections. What we are asking for is not military protection, but for the recognition of rights which are equal for all states who wish to become members of a single community, i.e. Europe.

 

 

The media, both in Europe and the US, highlight the fact that minorities in general (Armenians, Catholics, and Protestants) are being given a hard time in Turkey. They account for less than 1% of the population and yet they appear to represent a problem for the majority of Muslims as a whole. Is this really the case? Or is it simply that these minorities are cause for concern for other violent fundamentalist “minorities”?

 

 

The media in Europe are ill-informed with regard to the background to the long-term indoctrination of hate, violence and opposition which can explode from one moment to the next; we do not share similar laws, not even as far as civil and criminal codes are concerned. Just consider that a foreigner involved in an accident will never be in the right even if he is 100% in the clear. Should the evidence be incontestable, then the responsibility is dived equally, 50-50.

 

It is not true that minority races and religions amount to just 1%. Many do not make known which creed or ethnicity they belong to, and simply accept that their identity cards declare them to be “Turkish Muslims”. Only a brave few are courageous enough to declare otherwise. We can thus say that non Muslims, Sunnites, or Turks account for more than 1% of the population (many Armenians, Curds and Alawis are registered as Turks despite the fact that they belong to different creeds and ethnicities).

 

It is also partially true to say that the violent people and the fundamentalists are only a minority, but without losing sight of the fact that they represent the vehicles of a much larger multitude

 

 

What stance has the Catholic Church in Turkey taken following the recent episodes of violence? What does it consider to be a realistic way out of this danger?

 

 

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, we will continue along the path of dialogue and cooperation. Pressure from outside is needed to remove this fundamentalist, nationalistic obstacle in order to allow other Churches to be recognised and accepted (the Latin Church in particular is still not officially recognised), and for these religions to be freely and correctly “expressed” even by allowing them to train and ordain their own “priests” in loco. The word “correctly” is of the essence here, because certain Protestant sects are often in breach of agreements made with the Turkish State.

 

 

Could Turkey’s entry into the EU defend Turkish Christians from extinction?

 

 

Turkey’s admission to the EU, which we herald, must be carried out without any form of judicial permissiveness. The answers we have given are far more complex than they may at first appear to be. We have simply tried to outline the essential facts so that the real difficulties this nation has, may be understood. Contrary to what the American or European media may think, we believe that Christianity which covers a social role and offers support to the poor and needy, the refugees, those who are sincere and searching for answers, will not only save it from becoming extinct, but will also kindle and revive.

 

We are, however, concerned that if Turkey does not scrupulously observe the rules and requirements of entry into the EU, Europe itself may have to suffer the consequences of a difficult cohabitation as far as the mutual respect of religion is concerned.

 

 

Has the Pope’s visit to the Turkish community already been forgotten or is it still a vivid memory?

 

 

The Pope’s trip to Turkey was a wonderful experience for all those who desire change and fraternity. His testimony lives on, but Islamic fundamentalism remains a hard nut to crack. They did not perceive his message and, in many cases, exploited it to their own aims. I sincerely hope that his visit will not remain just an isolated event.

 

 

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