Country of Concern: Turkey Suppressing Christian Worship

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ISTANBUL, Turkey -- On April 18, 2007, three Christians were bound to their chairs, tortured, and stabbed repeatedly at a Bible print shop in Malatya -- their throats slit.

Five years have now passed since the Malatya murders, an incident that was perhaps the most tragic and brutal murder of Christians in modern-day Turkey.

Today, believers are facing increased persecution and the country is gradually moving away from secularism.

"You see everyday is April 18. Everyday I have to live without him," widow Susanne Geske told CBN News on the one year anniversary of her husband's murder.

Five suspects went on trial for killing the men, but there is still no conviction.

Country of Concern

Church attendance dropped immediately after the Malatya incident. And although attendance is now growing again, so are the number of attacks against Christians.

The Protestant churches of Turkey documented 12 attacks in 2011. This included the beating of Christians for sharing their faith with Muslims.

No one has been prosecuted for any of these crimes, putting Turkey on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for the first time.

Nina Shea, one of the commissioners supporting that move, said the Turkish government is suppressing Christian worship, and as a result Christian numbers are dwindling.

"They comprise 0.15 percent of the entire population of Turkey," Shea said. "They are very frail, and we're going to see them vanish in our lifetime if Turkey doesn't lift its dense web of regulations and give them religious freedom."

Turkey's ambassador in Washington called the CPC designation "politically motivated."

Middle East analyst Walid Phares is not surprised by the persecution of Christians in Turkey. He said Prime Minister Erdogan has been shifting away from a pro-NATO, pro-Western position to a "pro-Islamists, more anti-Israel and slightly anti-Western attitude."

"For example, the alliance with Hamas," Phares explained.

That alliance cooled relations with Israel, leading to a shootout over a flotilla of terrorists bound for Gaza.

Turkey also supported anti-Gadhafi rebels in Libya and, more recently, opposition fighters in Syria. The nation is positioning itself as a dominant Middle Eastern power.

Economic Concerns

But as Turkey takes on the role of leader, helping to shape the future of North Africa and the Middle East, like most Americans, Turks are concerned about the economy. About 25 percent of Turks between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed.

Turkey resident Mohammed Ali is one of them.

"All the attention on Israel and Syria is affecting the Turkish economy. That's one reason there are not as many jobs as before," he told CBN News.

Suleiman, another young unemployed Turk, said domestic issues must be the top priority of the Turkish government.

"Turkey must first solve its internal problems, then it can focus on Israel and Syria," Suleiman added.

Reliving History?

While most Turks enjoy a more open, secular society, the shift toward Islamic fundamentalism may not come as a surprise. The nation has a long history of embracing Western culture and then eventually rejecting it.

For example: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia. For a thousand years the building stood as the largest cathedral in the world.

But, after Ottoman Muslims conquered the city in 1453, they converted the basilica into a mosque, plastering over 12th century Byzantine mosaics, including one of Jesus.

The Ottoman Turks established a caliphate to rule over the Islamic world. In the 1920s, Mustafa Ataturk established a secular state.

Nearly 100 years later, it appears Turkey again is distancing itself from the West. Prime Minister Erdogan is taking steps to re-establish the Turkish caliphate.

"There will be a renewed caliphate, but there will be a struggle over who is going to control that caliphate and again, we go back to centuries in time," Phares claimed.

"Will it be the Arab caliphate or will it be the Ottoman caliphate? So, we'll go back to square one," he explained.

In the meantime, Turkish Christians pray for greater religious freedom and tolerance as young Turks like Mohammed and Suleiman continue their search for a brighter future.

"We need jobs and peace," Ali said. "We need a solution to our problems."

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Gary Lane

Gary Lane

CBN News Sr. International Correspondent

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