Aykan Erdemir, a member of Turkey’s Parliament, planned to travel to Diyarbakir Church in mid-June. In preparation for his visit, he looked for information about the church on their website. He did not get far. His office computer in the parliament building blocked the church website with a message that it contained “pornographic” content.
Checking the websites of other Turkish Protestant churches, Erdemir and his colleagues found them all blocked, though the filtering screens did not mention “pornography” as the reason.
Although websites are occasionally banned in Turkey – the most notable in recent months being YouTube – the diyarbakirkilisesi.com website for Diyarbakir Church, in southeastern Turkey, is not under a national ban.
The block only affected computers in the parliament, and it was quickly removed after Erdemir complained.
“The lifting of the block on the Diyarbakir Church website was a small step for internet freedoms in Turkey, but a big step for internet freedom in the Parliament,” he said. Erdemir, who represents the western province of Bursa in the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said the episode is a symptom of deep-rooted governmental antagonism toward Christians, especially Protestants, and of Turkey’s increasing intolerance towards minorities.
He described the block on the website as, “humiliating, embarrassing and defaming.” The newspaper Daily Hurriyet reported Thursday that the filter killed two birds with one stone-it simultaneously worked to prejudice Parliamentarians and to attack minority groups.
“They are just trying to support their own party’s politics and agendas with inflammatory and marginalizing language,” said Ahmet Guvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Church. “This is embarrassing and outrageous and they should apologize for this.” Guvener, a convert from Islam, said he does not feel he has equal rights with other Turks, and that his country regards him as a threat. His phone, he said, has been tapped since 2007, when three Christians were tortured and murdered in the city of Malatya.
“They have been listening to my phone without a break since Malatya,” Guvener said. He claims to have seen his name on wiretap lists, and that police continue to question him about subjects he has discussed on the phone with other Christian believers.
He believes that law enforcement authorities consider Christianity to be one of the country’s greatest threats, and that military training has reinforced an attitude of marginalization. “They really don’t see Turkish Christians as citizens of this country,” he said. “Turkey knowingly intimidates Christians here, so in my opinion, the block on our website was done knowingly.”
Erdemir, an advocate of religious and minority rights in Turkey and author of Turkey’s Hate Crimes Bill, said changing the Parliament’s internet settings by itself won’t end anti-Christian behavior. “The only way to remedy it is to embrace tolerant values,” he said. The MP said official discrimination is felt more acutely among Turkey’s Protestants than among more established churches, and that paranoia pervades the country about missionary activities, in particular conversions from Islam to Christianity.
“But it’s not an issue that can be solved at the legal level,” Erdemir said. “It will require transforming the mentalities, sensitivities and attitudes,” among the country’s bureaucrats, lawmakers and journalists.
“The Prime Minister’s policies actually profit from polarization, discrimination and hate speech,” he added. “So I don’t have any expectations from the government when it comes to establishing a multicultural pluralist and tolerant society.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pray for the nation of Turkey. We pray for the Christians who are increasingly marginalized and discriminated against. We pray for earthly justice in Turkey so that Christians might be able to worship in freedom. But as You have called them to a prayerfully short season of suffering for their faith, we pray that You will teach them how to suffer as Christ did, with humility, righteousness and grace. Thank You for those in Parliament who are working on behalf of Your church in Turkey, and we call on You to change hearts to dispel the fear and hatred aimed at Christ and Your people. We pray for an outpouring of Your Spirit upon this nation. In the name of Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again that we might live, Amen.