Letter to the Turkish Ambassador to the UN in Geneva
His Excellency Mr. Ahmet Üzümcü
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary,
Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland
Geneva, 1st May 2007
We would like to register with your Government our serious concern about killings and other threats directed at members and leaders of religious minorities in Turkey. Like many people in Turkey and beyond, the news of acts of violence causes us deep revulsion. News of threats brings added dismay. The fact that these crimes appear to be motivated by hatred for whole groups of people adds to the sense of alarm in churches and among people of goodwill around the world.
The savage murders of three Christians in Malatya on 18 April are the latest tragedy. Words do not suffice to describe such hateful deaths. The victims and their families have been remembered in prayer in parishes in many countries. Likewise, churches and citizens are watching the authorities in the case to see that justice is done and that further crimes are prevented.
The killing of the Armenian writer, Hrant Dink, is fresh in many minds, as is the vast public display of solidarity by Turkish citizens of all kinds in the streets of Istanbul - a moving tribute to a man of integrity, courage and honour.
We must add to this regrettable list by remembering Father Andrea Santano, the Catholic priest shot in the back at his church in Trabzon last year.
It is disturbing to note that such killings are usually preceded by threats and violence against the individual who is at risk as a member of a religious minority. Accordingly, we note here incidents of this kind reported last year: young men shouting abuses at Syrian Orthodox parishioners in Diyarbakir; protesters disrupting a Greek Orthodox mass at a historic church in Bergama; a Protestant leader in Adana beaten and threatened with death if he did not renounce his faith; a similar group attack on a Catholic friar in Izmir.
"We are deeply sorry for the increase, in recent times, of provocative actions of terror which threaten the peaceful integrity of Turkey," His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, said after the latest event, in Malatya.
The explicit condemnation of such killings by government officials including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an important positive factor when it occurs. We are also aware and grateful that your Government supports the freedom of religion stipulated by the constitution of Turkey. Tolerance among people of different faiths is evident in Turkish society and religion is appreciated as a matter of
conscience in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. These and other developments of recent years are building blocks for strategies to reduce hate crimes and enhance human rights.
Yet in recent months there have also been news reports of plots against the lives of the heads of two World Council of Churches member churches in Turkey - His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and His Beatitude Mesrob II, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey.
Religious communities that face recurring threats to life and limb also face other unresolved matters concerning the property and services of minorities. The World Council of Churches has periodically taken public note of long-standing governmental claims and actions against church property. These cases prevent church lands and buildings from being used for purposes that include religious education, schooling for children, housing for orphans, and the care and healing of the sick.
In raising these specific issues for Christian churches, your Excellency, we note that the rights of one religious minority are inseparable from the general rights and the well-being of other religious minority groups.
Progress toward addressing these concerns will help to complete a new chapter in Turkey's unique history. Current trends in the Middle East, and between the region and the world, point to the contribution that the nation and society of Turkey can make toward peace in a pluralistic world. Turkey's rich cultural heritage and diversity are an asset in this regard.
The rule of law must be evident, however, through actions at all levels of government. The practice of tolerance must be a public goal.
We look to see respect for human dignity - socially, politically and religiously - reflected in the treatment of churches and other religious minorities.
Acts that lead to violence must be treated by the authorities as serious crimes. Authorities must bring the perpetrators of violence to justice under the law, while also preventing further crimes.
We look to the appropriate governmental authorities to ensure the respect for human rights and for the rule of law which safeguards all citizens, including these whose cases we raise here.
We thank you for your attention, look forward to a response to these important concerns and welcome opportunities for discussion of the same.
Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia
WCC General Secretary
His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch
His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey