by Uzay Bulut
Before Muslim political or religious leaders lecture the world about the non-existent threat of "Islamophobia" or "intolerance against Muslims" in the West, they should take moral responsibility and address the real abuses against Christians in their home countries, and the actual Christian genocide taking place across the Muslim world.
- As yet another enormous mosque has opened in the U.S. (funded by the Turkish government), Christians in Turkey are waiting for the day when Turkish state authorities will allow them freely to build or use their churches and safely pray inside them.
- In Turkey, some churches have been converted to stables or used as storehouses. Others have been completely destroyed. Sales of churches on the internet are a common practice.
- Meanwhile, Turkish President Erdogan said during the opening ceremony of the Maryland mosque that the center was important at a time of an "unfortunate rise in intolerance towards Muslims in the United States and the world."
- How would Muslims feel if mosques in Mecca were put up for sale on the internet, turned into stables, or razed to the ground? How would they feel if a Muslim child were beaten in the classroom by his teacher for not saying "Jesus is my Lord and Savior?" How would they feel if they continually received violent threats or insults for just attempting peacefully to worship in their mosques?
On April 2, a gigantic Ottoman style of mosque was opened in Lanham, Maryland by the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The mosque, according to Turkish officials, is "one of the largest Turkish mosques built outside Turkey."
Funds to build it, as reported by the Turkish pro-government newspaper, Sabah, came from Turkey's state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs, known as the Diyanet, as well as Turkish-American non-profit organizations.
The mosque is actually part of a larger complex, commonly referred to as "Maryland kulliye." A kulliye, as such Islamic compounds were called in Ottoman times, is a complex of buildings, centered on a mosque and composed of various facilities including a madrassa (Islamic religious school).
Erdogan recited verses from the Quran inside the mosque after the mosque was opened.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from the American soil, in Turkey, Christians have for decades been deprived of the right to build their places of worship.
The 2015 report by Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches revealed many violent, repressive and discriminatory practices against Protestant Christians in Turkey. According to the report, hate crimes, physical and verbal assaults as well as threats against Protestant Christians were commonplace in 2015 -- as in previous years.
"No development with regard to uncovering the perpetrators of these actions has occurred despite making known the content of the threats, the telephone numbers, email addresses, Facebook profiles and YouTube links of those making the threats in an official complaint," according to the report.
Christians also experience many problems in the compulsory "religion and ethics" classes, which are mostly about indoctrinating schoolchildren in the teachings of Islam. An obligatory declaration of faith is one of the more serious problems facing Christians.
"The section for religious affiliation on the identity cards forces people to declare their faith and increases the risk of facing discrimination in every arena of life," said the report. "For example, those who want to be exempt from mandatory religious instruction do not have the right to leave the religion line blank because they have to prove they are Christian in order for their children to be exempt from religion classes."
Eleven-year-old Huseyin Bayram, for instance, a student at a primary school in Diyarbakir, converted to Protestant Christianity with his family in 2008. But because he was still officially registered as a Muslim, he had to take the compulsory Islamic class at school.
In 2010, Huseyin's family lodged a complaint against the teacher of their child's mandatory Islamic religious class, stating that the teacher slapped the child in the classroom.
Huseyin said that the teacher had asked the entire class to say the Islamic shahada ("There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah) three times; he did not do so. When the teacher asked him why, he said: "Sir, I go to the church. I do not know shahada and I do not want to learn it."
The teacher, however, rejected the claims of beating: "I did not know the child was a Christian. I asked him the question that I ask to everyone."
Like all other cities in present-day Turkey, Diyarbakir -- called Dikranagerd or Dikrisagerd by the Armenian community -- has a long history of Christianity.
After the division of the Roman Empire, Anatolia -- from the Greek word "Anatole" meaning "east" or "sunrise" -- became part of the Byzantine Empire. By the fourth century CE, Western and central Anatolia were overwhelmingly Christian and the inhabitants predominantly spoke Greek. A magnificent Christian civilization was established throughout centuries -- until the territory was invaded first by the Seljuk Turks and later by the Ottoman Empire.
The year 1915 marked the peak of the Christian genocide, in Diyarbakir as well. "Most of the Armenians living inside the city were trapped," wrote the Reverend Dr. George A. Leylegian, "and neighborhood by neighborhood, the Ottomans pillaged property and killed the helpless Dikranagerdtsis with nearly full-proof [sic] entrapment. The gendarmes sealed off each street and then raided the houses without reproach."
Being a candidate for the European Union has not changed Turkey's attitude towards churches and Christians.
This March, many places in Diyarbakir -- including the Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic and the Armenian Catholic churches -- were expropriated by the Turkish government, as well as the Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church, the Virgin Mary Ancient Assyrian Church, and the city's Protestant church.
Protestant Christians still experience serious problems establishing places of worship.
"Applications for opening a place of worship are rejected or left in a never-ending bureaucratic process. Previous applications that received either no response or a negative response are a clear indication of this situation...The Istanbul Protestant Church, for instance, officially requested that the Meryem Ana (Mother Mary) Church -- in the hands of the city of Kayseri and used in the past as a sports center -- be assigned to Christians living in Kayseri to meet their needs for a place of worship.
"Apart from some exceptions, Christian congregations are prevented from using historical church buildings for Sunday services or holiday celebrations; these buildings are held by government institutions and are used for purposes other than church services."
"No written response to this request has been given. However, in meetings with city officials, it was indicated unofficially that the church would be turned into a mosque or used as a museum. The church continued its efforts on this issue in 2015."
The Istanbul Protestant Church officially requested last year that local Christians be allowed to worship in the Meryem Ana (Mother Mary) Church -- in the hands of the city of Kayseri and used in the past as a sports center. City officials indicated that the church would instead be turned into a mosque or used as a museum.
The city of Caesarea, today called Kayseri, was where Saint Krikor Lusavoric -- or Saint Gregory the Illuminator (A.D 257-331), the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church -- was raised and adopted Christianity as his religion.
King Tiridates III of Armenia, under leadership of Saint Gregory, proclaimed Christianity the state's official religion in 301. Armenia thus became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
"If Mecca is considered to be sacred for Muslims," according to the website of Foundation of Kayseri Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Armenian Church, "Kayseri is the same for Armenians being the first city where Christianity was adopted."
"Kayseri had a robust Armenian presence up until the 1970's," wrote the author Aris Nalci. "Today, there are no active Armenian churches in the city, except for the Krikor Lusavorich Church located in the city center. "In 1915, there were more than 50,000 Armenians living in this large trade city; in 1965, it is said that 130 families still remained. Now, however, there are only a few Armenians left."
Today, the last traces of Christianity in Kayseri are about to be extinguished.
The Agape Church Association in the city of Ordu also recently applied to Turkish state authorities to be able to use the historic Tasbasi Orthodox Church as its church. The provincial director of culture and tourism affairs rejected the application, saying that "the church will be used as an archeology museum."
Ordu, or Kotyora in Greek, was an ancient Greek town in the northern region of Anatolia historically known as Pontus (which means "sea" in Greek).
Throughout centuries, Christians thrived in the city -- until the Islamic invasion of the region. The Christian inhabitants of Ordu were also victims of the Greek and Armenian genocides perpetrated by Muslim Turks between 1913 and 1923.
"There are stories," wrote the historian Sam Topalidis, "of Armenians from Ordu being huddled into boats only to be later thrown overboard into the Black Sea to drown."
After deportations, mass murders, death marches, rapes and other atrocities -- as well as the 1923 forcible population exchange between Greece and Turkey -- Ordu has almost become devoid of its Christian population, as have all other Anatolian cities.
"Similar experiences over many years have rooted the belief in the Protestant community that the legal procedures to establish or build a church are practically impossible to meet and that this right only exists on paper," reported the Association of Protestant Churches.
Sales of churches on the internet are a common practice.
The Assyrian Mor (Saint) Yuhanna church in the province of Mardin and the historic Saint John Greek church in Bursa were put up for sale by title owners in June, 2015.
In January, 2016, another historic Greek church in the province of Kayseri was offered for sale on the internet.
On February, 2016, a 300-year-old Armenian Catholic Church in the province of Bursa was listed on an internet shopping site by a real estate agent. Its price was 1.5 million dollars.
Giving the titles of churches to private individuals was one of the policies of the Armenian genocide, said the researcher Nevzat Onaran.
"In 1915, the lives and right to property of Armenians were destroyed. The churches put up on sale today are a declaration of the fact that the process of devastation that the [Ottoman Turkish] Committee of Union and Progress government started in 1915 is still going on."This policy has targeted not only Armenians, but all other non-Muslim peoples in Anatolia.
Some churches have been converted to stables or used as storehouses. Others have been completely destroyed.
As Muslims in the United States have built yet another enormous mosque with Turkey's help, Christians in Turkey are waiting for the day when Turkish state authorities will allow them freely to build or use their churches and safely pray inside them.
In the meantime, Turkish President Erdogan said during the opening ceremony of the Maryland mosque that the center was important at a time of an "unfortunate rise in intolerance towards Muslims in the United States and the world."
Christians in Turkey have been going through not only the most intense feelings of intolerance and hatred, but also unending attacks and even murders. The Christian culture and civilization in Anatolia is on the way to total annihilation.
"Particulars gleaned from studying earlier centuries help us as Westerners to perceive the unique relationship between the religion and politics and, hopefully, to understand its modern-day manifestations better," wrote the scholar Judy Henzel.
Today Cappadocian Greek in Turkey is a dead language. Many local languages of indigenous Christians -- including Pontic Greek, Western Armenian, Suret (Assyrian Neo-Aramaic), Turoyo (Western Assyrian), and Hertevin (Eastern Aramaic) -- are on the verge of extinction. It is not only places of worship that are destroyed or left to devastation in Turkey, it is an entire civilization to which the West owes so much.
In that, not only the aggression of Muslim authorities, but also the apathy of many Muslim locals have played a large part.
How would Muslims feel if their mosques in Mecca were put up for sale on the internet? Or turned into stables? Or razed to the ground? How would they feel if a Muslim child were beaten in the classroom by his teacher for not saying "Jesus is my Lord and Savior?"
How would Muslims feel if they continually received violent threats or insults for just attempting peacefully to worship in their mosques? Or if they were always to live in fear of violence? Or if they were systematically treated as if they were second-class citizens -- in their indigenous lands where their ancestors once ruled?
As these issues are not discussed in Muslim countries, similar crimes are committed repeatedly -- day in and day out. Apparently, one of the most obvious changes that political Islam causes in one's psyche is the loss of empathy.
Before Muslim political or religious leaders lecture the world about the non-existent threat of "Islamophobia" or "intolerance against Muslims" in the West, they might take moral responsibility and address the real abuses against Christians in their home countries, including the intense Christian- and Jew-hatred, and the actual Christian genocide -- both physical and cultural -- that is happening across the Muslim world.
Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist presently based in Washington D.C.
 Protestant Christians, like other Christian denominations in Turkey, do not enjoy the right to freely share their faith with people, or train their religious leaders. Protestant communities specifically do not have the right to organize as congregations, because they are not recognized as legal entities. The report gives detailed information about all of these daily discriminatory actions against Protestant Christians.
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Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist presently based in Washington D.C.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.