From "Turkish Daily News", Tuesday, April 22, 2008

MEMORIAL: Widows Şemşe Aydın and Suzanne Geske as well as Rakel Dink took their seats at the front of the chapel of St. Esprit Catholic church in Harbiye

by DAMARIS KREMIDA

ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News


  Hundreds of members of Turkey's Protestant community gathered Sunday afternoon to remember Necati Aydın, Uğur Yüksel and Tilman Geske, the three Christians who were brutally murdered in Malatya in April of 2007.

    But a year after the Malatya killings the Turkish Christian community still yearns for freedom to express and live its faith in a tolerant Turkey.

   “I knew Necati, Uğur and Tilmann, and especially Necati very well,” said Zekai Tanyar, chairman of the Turkish Protestant Churches Alliance, during the memorial service. “I laugh bitterly when I hear the unfair lies told about them. This is the only crime my three brothers committed: Their belief in God, following Jesus and telling people about God's message of love and hope for people.”

  At the gathering that brought together members of the Turkish protestant church from all over Turkey as well as representatives of the Armenian, Catholic, and Orthodox churches the feelings were a mixture of sorrow for the loss of the three, joy for the re-union of the Christian community and hope. Yet there was a lingering sense of disappointment especially among Turkish Christians about the continued lack of tolerance toward them for their choice of faith, said Tanyar.

  “There is disappointment,” Tanyar told the Turkish Daily News, “but we've always known,” he said explaining that Christians and minorities in Turkey throughout the centuries have always been treated as second-class citizens.” There is a pain in our heart, especially for those of us who are ethnically Turkish; that people think that if you believe in Christ you're a traitor.” As if it isn't bad enough to hear it, he said, “when you get targeted to the point of being killed...how can this be acceptable to people or the government, just in a sense of humanity purely.”    

Ongoing trial

  On April 18, 2007 the accused killers Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim and Salih Gurler had been caught at the scene of the crime at a Christian publishing house with knives in their hands and the blood of the victims on their clothing. But like Hamit Çeker, the first suspect to testify in January, the three suspects declared at the fifth hearing on April 14, last week that they had not participated in the actual killings of Turkish Christians Aydın and Yüksel and German Christian Geske. Instead, in the Malatya Third Criminal Court they claimed it was Emre Günaydın, the fifth culprit and alleged ringleader of the attack, who personally tortured and then slit the throats of the three Christians, reported Turkish and foreign media last week. In their statements the three said Gunaydin had deceived them, telling them his plan was just to infiltrate and intimidate these “Christian missionaries” whom he claimed were trying to divide Turkey and destroy Islam. The next hearing is scheduled for May 12.

  Tanyar said the Turkish Constitution on the one hand gives Christians “tremendous” freedoms, but takes away from those with the disinformation about Christianity, “therefore turning people against us,” he said.

  There are an estimated 3,000-4,000 Turkish Protestants across the country and some of the churches report continued hostilities toward their churches and members. One Turkish Christian of Istanbul who works as a civil servant opted not to come to the memorial service for fear of her picture being taken. “The killings have affected some people,” said Tanyar. In the city of İzmit just one hour east of Istanbul, the pastor of the small protestant church has received repeated death threats and is currently under police protection. He was forced by his neighbors, who were afraid for their own safety, to move to a different neighborhood.

  “We want the government to be much more persistent in stopping this kind of discrimination and violence,” said Tanyar. “They should be encouraging people who are different in public and taking a positive attitude to stop the negative.”

  One of the elders of the Beşiktaş Protestant church, Kaan Koryürek said the case of Malatya was extreme. “This is violence and the people who did it are driven by hate,” he said noting that not all Turks are like this. “I have many Muslim friends and they said they were very sorry about the event,” said Koryürek.

A message of courage

  Widows Şemşe Aydın and Suzanne Geske as well as Rakel Dink took their seats at the front of the chapel of St. Esprit Catholic church in Harbiye, just blocks away from the Agos offices in Osmanbey where Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered over a year ago. Aydin and Geske spoke of the year that passed and the difficulties they faced and the courage they found in the community of Christians and their faith. They encouraged those present to not be afraid either.

  “I am amazed by these women's forgiveness,” said a Greek Protestant woman who traveled from Greece to show her support to Aydin and Geske. “These people live under such pressure and yet they have courage,” she said.