Turkey and religious freedom: Wooing Christians — “We are ready to face the past, to make amends.”

23 Apr

From the Economist:

“IT IS well known that Kurdish tribes took part in the mass slaughter by the Ottomans of around 1m Armenians in 1915. “Collaborating Kurdish clerics pledged that anyone who killed an infidel would be rewarded in heaven with 700 mansions containing 700 rooms, and that in each of these rooms there would be 700 houris to give them pleasure,” says Mala Hadi, an Islamic sheikh in Diyarbakir.

The sheikh is among a handful of local leaders seeking reconciliation with the Kurdish region’s once thriving Christians. “We are ready to face the past, to make amends,” promises Abdullah Demirbas, mayor of Diyarbakir’s ancient Sur district. To atone, Mr Demirbas has been providing money and materials to restore Christian monuments in Sur. These include the sprawling Surp Giragos Armenian Orthodox church where, until recently, drug dealers plied their trade amid piles of rubbish. It is now squeaky clean and even boasts a new roof.”

Here’s a website with some beautiful pictures of the church: http://www.futurereligiousheritage.eu/february-2012-restoration-of-dyarbakir-surp-giragos-armenian-church-dr-f-meral-halifeoglu/ 

This is a story that made me cry — I wish I could say I don’t cry easily.

Read the whole story from the Economist here: http://www.economist.com/node/17632939  The story then goes on to talk about relations with the Syrian Christian community in southeastern Turkey, especially the conflict surrounding the Syrian monastery of Mor Gabriel, since the Armenian community that the Kurdish sheikh would like to make amends to has been practically non-existent outside Istanbul for a good century now.  Some photos of Mor Gabriel:

I keep looking for a story — because there’s definitely one there — about Syrian Christians among the refugees flowing into Turkey from Syria.  But there may not be that many, since for the most part they’ve been pretty passive in the whole conflict, nervously afraid of change as all minorities are, and maybe passively siding with the Alawite regime for fear the Sunni resistance will turn religious in ways uncomfortable for them.  And yet Homs and Hama, two of the Assad regime’s most brutalized targets, are among the largest and most ancient Christian communities in the country.  In William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East: http://www.amazon.com/From-Holy-Mountain-Journey-Christians/dp/0805061770/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335220105&sr=8-1 he describes the Christians of Syria as the most happy, confident, open, and optimistic about their future of any of the Christian communities of the region, even those that constitute a larger percentage of their country’s population, like those of Lebanon or Egypt (on Lebanon, he has a kind of sensationalist chapter on Maronite “savagery,” which reminds me of a lot of Western journalism about Serbs, or older travel accounts of Albania, and pretty much tows the standard line that if they, Maronites, are on their way out demographically and politically, it’s their own fault.)  That optimism on Syrian Christians’ part must certainly have changed.  And if they were going to flee, it would be to their pretty numerous co-religionists in Turkey, wouldn’t it?

I always wanted to know what percentage of Arabs in southeastern Turkey were Christian and could never find any definitive information on it.  But if there were that many, they probably wouldn’t have to be fighting such an outnumbered battle to protect the property of one of their main religious centers.

Anyway, kudos to the sheikh, Demirbas, and I guess guarded kudos to AK leaders too; I think their concern for issues like this might actually be genuine; I mean Hillary talked about the Chalke seminary when she was in Turkey last and they didn’t freak out.

I have a few acquaintances who would roll their eyes at this post, irritated, along the lines of: “So many people being killed and you’re only concerned about Christians…”  No, I’m not just concerned about Christians.  But — shout out to the MESA thought police — I’m not going to waste any more time arguing my basic non-sectarian ethics either.

As a final note: the great villain here is not Assad, but his prime backer, Vladimir Putin, the last twentieth-century totalitarian dictator of the twenty-first century and a Chekist murderer and Stalinist criminal on all levels.  Be afraid of him — very afraid.  Recent NYRB article about him: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/apr/26/vladimirs-tale/


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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