The Banality of the Murders of Three Christians in Turkey

Published in Turkish Daily News, 21 April 2007

You have to learn one key element that forms the mental template, which rules Turkish politics and society, if you wish to understand what is happening and where we are coming from. It is not only the melancholy of a lost glory that we have inherited from the Ottoman Empire, but also a deep rooted “some people” syndrome. This syndrome began with the bitter experience of the European powers and non-Muslim minorities during the fall of the Empire. They sought to go on their own ways or tried to invade and colonize what we today call Turkey. Since then, every non-Muslim is viewed as a potential traitor and conspirator that seek to divide our country under the leadership of the Western powers. Within this mindset, today's powerful and secured Turkish Republic is under the same imminent inner and outer threat, which the Ottoman Empire was under before and after WWI. Step into a bookstore, read a Turkish newspaper, listen to the political and media elites, you will see that this is a reified truth that is internalized widely as “common sense” and is beyond any doubt.

Always ‘birileri' divides our nation:

The international community, non-Muslim minorities and various NGOs and intellectuals in Turkey have been asking for the free exercise of the most basic rights of religious minorities, that are protected not only by the Turkish Constitution and Penal Code, but as well as all of the international covenants Turkey is a party to. Yet, this request has always been interpreted by the politicians and wider public through the lenses of some people syndrome. “Birileri”, or some people, are trying to strengthen minorities in order to divide our nation. These birileri are not only trying to use the Human Rights argument to pressure Turkey and make her look “bad” in the eyes of the world, they are also the ones behind the persecution of minorities. When the Roman Catholic priest Andrea Santore was killed in Trabzon by a 16-year-old boy on 5 February 2006, majority of politicians and commentators declared that birileri were trying to hinder Turkey's EU accession. When a Protestant church in Odemis was attacked with Molotov Cocktails on 4 November 2006, it was birileri who were trying to embarrass Turkey. Not so surprisingly, the local authorities ordered the church to shut down its activities following the attack, because birileri had darker aims than just worshipping their God. When a Protestant church in Samsun was stoned and threatened in January 2007, it was birileri again who were trying to put Turkey in a hot spot. When Hrant Dink was murdered this year, it was not the plain fact that birileri who “loved their country” killed him, but some other birileri whose main occupation were to corner Turkey on the Armenian question.

Gendarme hunt on missionaries:

This “sensitivity” for the welfare of our country showed itself all through out 2006 and 2007. Turkish media reported with a great zeal that two Turkish Christian missionaries, Hakan and Turan were caught with a splendid Gendarme operation and taken to courts on 11 October 2006 as if propagating one's beliefs are crimes in Turkey. Apparently, these Turkish Christians, whom I know personally, were offering sex with younger girls and money to few innocent unemployed Turkish lads and threatening them with guns. Through out this aggressive activity “to convert” the lads, they have also not forgotten to insult Turkishness, Prophet Muhammad and the Turkish Armed Forces. Their fate still awaits a conclusion by the court.

All these years, Turkish media gave sensational accounts of 100 US Dollars being placed in the Bibles to lure Muslims. No court ever found a Christian or a church guilty on any of these charges or found the traces of generously distributed dollars, but the urban myth still continued. The State, which runs an effective apparatus that controls media did nothing to stop these wild accusations. On the contrary officials have echoed the same ‘common sense' that these people have one agenda and that is to divide our country. So it should come as no surprise to you when Necati, Uğur and Tilman were killed brutally by 5 young nationalist and slightly religious men, AKP MPs for Malatya, where the murders took place, have declared that birileri were trying to stir up Turkey right before the Presidential elections. Beneath all of the superficial condemnations of the murder, which is often limited to the first opening sentence, the rest of all of the comments point to good old dull international conspiracy theories.

The Elders of Zion replaced:

The human face of this national neurosis is the death of human beings, who have nothing to do with any of the perceived national threats. The dark side of our worldview is just human, all too human, nothing fancy and enchanting like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the myth of birileri. As long as the media and politicians keep using Christians in the country as scape goats to the mundane failures of local politics and identity confusions in a global age, we will have more murders and attacks, that's certain.The mental template that was born out of the sad experiences of the past has paralyzed us completely. We are now failing to understand the present on its own terms and to move to a brighter future. Historical malady has removed the plastic energy we need to mold and renew ourselves as modern day Turks. It gave birth to an incapacity to mourn genuinely the death of two Turkish and one German human being by a bunch of kids who took the words of their abis (older brothers) seriously, to an incapacity to see that we have a significant problem of Non-Muslim minorities and that our perceptions of our country as a tolerant junction “where civilizations meet” is only believed by the marketing gurus of the tourism industry.

Not for saving the face:

I am a Turkish Christian and have known Necati personally for years. I attended the same church with him. He was a genuine man, who loved his country and people. However, neither Necati and Uğur nor any of us are allowed to love our country or even serve her. Somehow, our personal love for Jesus is incompatible with being a Turk and a Patriot. Somehow, no matter who we really are and what we really believe, what is important is what the officials and media have named us; Traitors! The Turkish State has a legal responsibility towards her vulnerable minorities. The improvements and grandeur public declarations of sorrow by the politicians should not be done only with the fear of the EU or to save the “face” of our nation, but because our State cares for her children and citizens. The State has a moral responsibility to do so! Even when the international watchdogs are not looking, even when the legal provisions are not in place, even before someone asks for protection, our country should be there for us. Our democracy and the national soul is only strong to the extent of her protection, respect and integration of her weakest members!

This will happen again

My heart bleeds as I write these sentences not just because of the death of beloved ones, but because as I read the comments and reactions to their murder, waves of fear and helplessness fills every single cell in this body of mine. I know, just like the other events, this too will be forgotten as the country is fixed on the Presidential elections. The myths that are allowed to be “truths” will still remain in the minds of people. We will continue to pray in our churches for our nation, but our nation will continue to see us as enemies and sooner or later, birileri who loves their country or are angry with the West will attack us again, as if we are foreign Embassies. And our deaths will never be tantalizing stories of international actors, historical battles and colonial intentions. We will die in the most banal ways; a depraved youngling seeking to assert his identity and be an active agent in a confusing age, finding encouragement from the careless statements of his writer, politician and religious abis, will find a kitchen knife or a gun, then use it. As our bodies will lay there on the ground, those abis, in the most banal fashion, will declare that birileri is trying to destroy Turkey, all along failing to notice that those birileri are so difficult to find because they are the very ones who are speaking!