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Christians in the Muslim World

Minorities fighting for leadership

A Turkish Christian, director of a cultural magazine published in two languages, Turkish, Armenian, analyzes the present Turkish situation starting from the position of the minorities. They still undergo subtle discriminations connected to a difficult phase of the democratic transition.

Interview with Ferda Balancar, by Francesca Miglio



What are the most original aspects of your magazine?



I am a Turkish Christian and I have a number of Armenian friends both Catholic and Protestants like the founder of our magazine, the Armenian Hrant Dink, assassinated in 2007. I have been a journalist for twenty years and I also work for some NGOs. Our magazine was for Turks and Armenians and even though it has not been out even for twenty years we are aware that it is well-known. It is the only magazine that is published in both languages, Turkish and Armenian. Half of the employees are Turkish and the other half is Armenian. Not all of us are Christians. In fact some of us belong to the Muslim tradition. Where the minorities are concerned at present we cannot talk of discrimination by the state in Turkey, whereas the problems of censorship do exist and sometimes even discrimination within the society. It is in this framework that our founder was killed by some fascists and racists.



How do you see the present political situation in Turkey?



Our work is centred on political, religious and international relations, that is on political and social affairs. At present the conflict between Fetullah Gülen and Recep Tayipp Erdoğan is a great new problem for Turkey. It is not absolutely true that moderate Islamists are those of Hizmet and that the conservatives belong to the AKP, as we read in many newspapers especially in the west. If on the one hand Gülen is considered to be modern we can also say that, on the other hand, Erdoğan is not an extremist. It is really a question of a conflict of interests. The real problem is the economic political and hegemonic conflict of interests and this is the first time that the Hizmet movement has become political and directly involved.



What is the position of the Turkish Christians in this context?



Turkish Christians do not take part in this political conflict and in such a complicated situation we cannot foresee what the results will be in the near or long term. However, at the moment we can say that there is not a political party of opposition in the country, that could be a valid alternative to the AKP. Also the CHP is not an alternative and that is why Erdoğan is so strong. It is not an opposition because the CHP symbolizes the ancien regime whereas the AKP is the new that is gaining victory over the old Kemalist regime.



In your opinion what is the present democratic situation in Turkey?



Turkey is the most democratic of Arab countries but it has not yet reached the European level. We are going through a democratic transition. In the last ten years, thanks to AKP, Turkey has made great progress along the path of democratic transition, also from the point of view of relations with the minorities. The Muslims support Erdoğan or Gülen, but even if they are, as is said, Islamists, they are closer to democracy than for example the Muslim brotherhood of Morsi. In fact, Turkey is very different to Egypt.



How did you become a Christian and how are Christians seen today in Turkey?



My family was Muslim and I myself practiced as a Muslim until I was twenty-five when I started to read the Bible. Starting from the Koran which I had learned by heart I was faced with many questions, especially questions concerning the Gospel. That was when I started on a personal path. It is difficult to be a Christian today in Turkey, in so far that being “Turkish” is considered to coincide with being a “Muslim”. If this was especially true in the past, it remains true today. In fact, people still see us as a danger even if little by little they are getting used to it and the democratic process goes on. It is interesting to note that during the Gezi Park events, Erdoğan who had reacted in an exaggerated way against those manifesting, accused Europeans and Americans of causing the disorder. Many people think like this, so much so that it is said that the foreign powers provoked the Gezi Park events. In this context Christians are still identified with the Europeans and Americans and this fact certainly represents an obstacle to dialogue and the meeting of peoples. In any case I think that no-one believes today that all Westerns are Christians.