Turkey: Attacks on Christian cemeteries alarm the nation’s Christians

March 16, 2020

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: these attacks demonstrate the same contempt for the Christian history and heritage of Asia Minor that we see in the conversion of ancient churches to mosques; even the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque is now being contemplated. This contempt is also manifested in the ongoing denial of property rights and legal identity to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here.

“Attacks on Christian cemeteries alarm Turkey’s Christians,” by Uzay Bulut, Ahval, March 14 2020:

Attacks on Christian cemeteries in Turkey have deeply shaken the embattled community in recent months. 

Twenty of the 72 gravestones in the Ortaköy Christian Cemetery in Ankara were destroyed on Feb. 14, according to news reports. Six people who carried out the attacks were briefly detained and then released.

“These attacks against cemeteries are making the Christian community across Turkey feel incredibly sad and desperate,” Ankara-based pastor İhsan Özbek told Ahval. “Nobody can watch over the graves of their loved ones like a guard.”

One of the destroyed graves belonged to Olga Komshdoğan’s son. 

“My son lies here,” Komshdoğan told the Sözcü newspaper. “He died last year. He was 17-years-old. Children his age came here and destroyed his grave. What type of conscience can accept this?”

Komshdoğan said it was not the first attack on the cemetery. 

“They hid the attack on the graves from us. We learned of it through a stonemason. I’m hurting inside so much. If my son were alive, he would not do such a thing. They have carried out similar attacks before, and no one was caught. I want those who attacked the graveyard to be punished. We will sue for material and moral damages,” she said.

Another attack was carried out on a grave in the cemetery of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon, northeast Turkey, said the news website, Hristiyan Haber.

Zehra Çolak lost her life on Jan. 17 and was buried the next day in the cemetery of the Aya Filbo (Arafilboyu) neighbourhood, 500 m from the church. A wooden cross was temporarily placed at the head of the grave. According to those who attended the funeral, a small group tried to disrupt the ceremony, shouting Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest). 

Veysel Çolak visited his wife’s grave on Feb. 14 and said the wooden cross was broken and had been burned near the grave.

Çolak reported the incident to the police and said that even while his wife’s grave was being dug, a man who covered his face tried to steal the cross. When children playing in the cemetery reacted angrily, the man got his dog to attack the children.

Trabzon police said they would launch an investigation into the incident and the provincial governor’s office said the burnt cross would be replaced with a new one. The governor’s office could not bring itself to refer to the cross as such and called it a “grave marker”, according to Hristiyan Haber.

“The environment of hate in Turkey is the reason for these attacks,” journalist Seyfi Genç, who reported on the attack on Çolak’s grave for Hristiyan Haber, told Ahval.

“But this hateful environment did not emerge out of nowhere. The seeds of this hatred are spread, beginning at primary schools, through books printed by the Ministry of National Education portraying Christians as enemies and traitors. The indoctrination continues through newspapers and television channels in line with state policies. And of course, the sermons at mosques and talk at coffee houses further stir up this hatred. 

“And even more disturbing is the fact that the perpetrators are either not caught, or not brought to account even when they are caught,” said Genç. 

Trabzon’s Santa Maria Catholic Church was where a Roman Catholic priest, Andrea Santoro, was murdered in 2006 by Oğuzhan Akdin, who was 16 at the time. Ten years later, the killer was released on probation. Akdin said he was treated “like a king” while in the prison.

Genç said education was needed to help reduce attacks and hate speech targeting Christians in Turkey. 

“A comprehensive campaign of education regarding hate speech should be launched to raise awareness of the problem,” he said….