Wednesday, May 4, 2016

RLPB 355. Turkey: Church seizures reflect Ottoman policy

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 355 | Wed 04 May 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Aware that the neo-Ottoman Islamist AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unwilling to accept any outcome in Syria other than regime change, many analysts expect Turkey will move to escalate the Syrian war. Meanwhile, in Turkey it is already escalating its military campaign against the Kurds and its covert campaign against its remnant Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities. In a sense the Genocide never really ended, as Christians are still being driven out -- albeit quietly -- primarily by means of deprivations and threats. 'In some ways,' wrote political scientist Dr Elizabeth H Prodromou and historian Dr Alexandros K Kyrou (2013), 'Ankara's policies against Turkey's Christian citizens have added a modern veneer and sophisticated brutality to Ottoman norms and practices. ... In the words of an anonymous Church hierarch in Turkey fearful for the life of his flock, Christians in Turkey are an endangered species.'

As reported in last week's RLPB 354 (April Update), the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir (majority Christian just 100 years ago) has been heavily shelled -- no area more so than the historic, World Heritage listed Sur district on Diyarbakir's eastern fringe. After ordering residents out of Sur district, the government then seized 6300 plots of land, including six churches: the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary (built in the 3rd Century), the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church, the Surp (Saint) Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, an Armenian Catholic church, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church and the largest Armenian church in the Middle East -- the magnificent, recently renovated and hugely significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church.

Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, Diyarbakir (Nov 2014)
These churches are now the property of the Turkish state, which has no interest in their survival. Christians are deeply concerned that the government may be planning to raze Sur district and rebuild it entirely. Unlike mosques, which are all state owned and run, these churches were the private property of their foundations, maintained and staffed through the donations of the faithful.  Furthermore, they are an integral part of Turkey's cultural heritage -- lest people forget that Anatolia, once part of the Byzantine Empire, was a land of Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christians.

Though a remnant survived the Genocide of 1915-1923, the pressure has never subsided. Few of the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian churches seized during the Genocide have been returned. Rejecting the pleas of Christians, the government prefers to use these historic churches and cultural treasures as warehouses, sports centres, stables for animals or squats for drug users. Occasionally the government sells them to investors and developers over the internet. And so the state-sponsored cultural destruction continues, quietly.

This is the context in which many Muslims in Turkey are calling for Istanbul's (Constantinople's) famous 6th Century Byzantine Cathedral -- the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) -- to be opened as a mosque [see RLPB 315 (24 June 2015)]. Pressure has been mounting since June 2012 when Iznik's Hagia Sophia (formerly the Hagia Sofia of Nicaea) was converted into a mosque and December 2012 when a Turkish court ruled that Trabzon's Hagia Sophia should be opened for Muslim worship. Since May 2013, when Muslims celebrated the 560th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, calls to 'complete the conquest' through the removal of all churches have become even more shrill. On 9 April 2015, as Eastern Christians prepared to celebrate Easter, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia hosted the first Qur'an recitation under its roof in 85 years. Today, as the government seizes control of six more churches, there are reasons to be concerned about the future of Christianity in NATO-member, and aspiring EU-member, Turkey.


* grace Turkey's Christians (including some 2,000 Greeks and 80,000 Armenians and Assyrians) with holy wisdom in abundance as they seek to navigate the difficult and dangerous days ahead.
'My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts.' (Psalm 119:28,105,134 ESV)

* provide for, guide and bless advocate Ali Elbeyo─člu, the lawyer for the Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation, as he appeals to the Council of State for a stay of execution and annulment of the expropriation of the hugely significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church. 'For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints.' (Psalm 37:28 ESV)

* awaken Western leaders to start caring truly about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians and really listening to them in the realisation that their plight pre-figures our own; may West and East stand in solidarity against re-energised, belligerent Islam.


Turkey has escalated its military campaign against the Kurds and its covert campaign against its remnant Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities. Few churches seized during the Genocide of 1915-1923 were ever returned and in March 2016 the government seized six churches in Diyarbakir, south-eastern Turkey. They include a 1700-year-old Assyrian Orthodox Church, Armenian and Assyrian Catholic Churches, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church and the largest Armenian church in the Middle East: the magnificent, recently renovated and highly significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church. Calls to open Istanbul's magnificent Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) as a mosque grow louder by the day. Deprivations and state-sponsored cultural destruction are fuelling Christian migration. Concern for the future of Christianity in Turkey is valid. Please pray for Turkey and its Church.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

RLPB 354. April Update, Incl. Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia; China, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam

 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 354 | Wed 27 April 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)
Elizabeth Kendal

APRIL 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* NAGORNO-KARABAKH (NK), an Armenian Christian enclave in Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan (RLPB 351), which, over 1-5 April, saw the worst hostilities since the 1994 ceasefire.

UPDATE: it has emerged that, while the Azeri military was shelling Nagorno Karabakh (NK), Azeri soldiers who managed to invade NK were committing atrocities. In the NK village of Talish, Azeri soldiers brutally murdered three elderly civilians, mutilated the bodies of 18 Karabakh soldiers, and beheaded a young Armenian Yazidi soldier. On the night of 7 April -- two days after the ceasefire -- Azeri forces shelled Karmir, Ttudjur, and Baganis, three villages in north-east ARMENIA. Fortunately there were no casualties. Tensions are high. Wedged between belligerent NATO-member, neo-Ottoman Turkey, and belligerent, US-allied, oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan, the remnant Christian Armenians need our prayers.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 352), where Boko Haram terror and Muslim Fulani predatory migration are inflicting appalling suffering on the Christian peoples of northern Nigeria. May God intervene to bring justice, security and peace.

* SUDAN (RLPB 352), where the Arab-Islamist Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and allied militias continue to press in on the predominantly Christian African Nuba peoples of South Kordofan. Fighting continues to rage, but the 'rebel' Sudan People's Liberation Army-North is holding its ground. May God intervene to 'turn back the battle' (Isaiah 28:5-6).

* LIBYA (RLPB 353), where a decimated remnant Church may soon come under increased pressure, as the dark storm clouds of war gather and the battle for Libya intensifies. 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

APRIL ROUND-UP -- also this month ...


After three months in 'black jail' detention for criticising Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy, Rev 'Joseph' Gu Yuese, of Hangzhou's 10,000-strong, CCP-approved Chongyi Church, was released on 31 March. He remains under house arrest. On 14 April, when bulldozers arrived at Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan Province, Pastor Li Jiangong and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stood defiantly in front of the machines. Their efforts to prevent the demolition of the church were, however, in vain. Urged on by his supervisor, the bulldozer operator proceeded not only to demolish the property, but to deliberately bury the couple alive. Li survived, but Ding did not. China Aid reports that in response to an outcry, the demolition crew has been arrested and an investigation is under way. Pray for the Church in China.


Easter in Damascus,  April 2016
source AsiaNews
With the support of Russia, a re-energised Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has brought a greater level of security to the country's west, specifically the densely populated north-south Aleppo-Damascus corridor and the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. Consequently, this year's Easter celebrations were reportedly the best for five years. This was especially so in Damascus, where Christians (many thousands of whom are displaced) filled the churches and the streets where Muslims joined in the festivities.

The battle for Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, is heating up. Though most of Aleppo's estimated 200,000 Christians have fled and are now displaced in Latakia and Damascus, many remain and are gravely imperilled. Rebel shelling has targeted Kurdish and Armenian districts; many have been killed. There are also reports that the rebels are attempting to ethnically cleanse Kurds, Armenians and Assyrians out of the city. North of the city, al-Nusra and IS are fighting each other. South of the city, they are co-operating in an effort to cut the Khanasar Road, the only government-held road into Aleppo, critical for supply into government-held areas. May God intervene on behalf of the imperilled remnant Church trapped in Aleppo.

April 22 marked the third anniversary of the abduction of Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yaziji of the Greek Orthodox Church. The bishops had been abducted by foreign jihadists while travelling north of Aleppo. They had been to the Turkish border to negotiate the release of two priests abducted six weeks earlier. Their driver (a priest) was killed [see RLPB 207 (23 April 2013)]. The fate of the two bishops and two priests remains unknown to this day. Please pray.


As part of its war against its Kurdish minority, Turkey has been bombing the predominantly Kurdish city Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, a city that essentially functions as the Kurdish capital.  Situated on the eastern edge of the city, historic Sur district has been the focus of particularly heavy shelling. At the end of March, the government seized some 6,300 plots of land and ordered the residents out, saying the district will be rebuilt. Sur's Kurdish and Armenian populations suspect they will not be able to return and that what is happening is the ethnic cleansing of Sur district.  Of particular distress to the Armenians is the government's acquisition of six churches. Unlike mosques which are state owned and funded, the churches are the private property of their foundations.

Surp Giragos 
One of the churches seized is Surp (Saint) Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East. After WWI, this church, which had been a focal point for Armenians before the genocide, fell into disrepair, but the Kurdish administration backed its renovation. Since its re-opening in October 2011 Surp Giragos has become a focal point not only for Armenian Christians, but for 'Hidden Armenians' -- the descendants of Armenian Christians (often orphans) who were Islamised and raised as Kurds or Turks. The Church has been key to many 'Hidden Armenians' rediscovering their identities. Whilst dozens have been baptised, Church leaders believe there could be as many as half-a-million 'Hidden Armenians' in Turkey.  Surp Giragos Church is preparing to take legal action. Pray for the Armenians of Turkey.

Nguyen Van Dai

As reported in RLPB 340 (15 Dec 2015), Christian attorney and religious liberty defender   Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was brutally attacked by officials of the Vietnamese Communist regime on 6 December 2015.  Subsequently, on 16 Dec, Dai was arrested at his home, charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code ('spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam') and jailed in Hanoi for four months pending trial. Four months is now up and Dai is still in prison with no date set for the trial. If found guilty Dai would face between three and twenty years in prison. Denied access to her husband, Dai's wife, Vu Minh Khanh -- a strong Christian and active church worker -- is currently travelling in the US, speaking to supporters and members of the Congress and Senate to raise awareness of Dai's plight. [She will be in Australia on 29 and 30 June.] Dai has already spent five years in prison in Hanoi (2007-2011). Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today  (Deror Books, Dec 2012), which provides a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be released shortly.