Fears of Islamic extremism grow among Christians and Jews in Turkey

(Photo: REUTERS / Stoyan Nenov)Pope Francis releases a white dove prior to delivering a Holy Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul November 29, 2014. Pope Francis began a visit to Turkey on Friday with the delicate mission of strengthening ties with Muslim leaders while condemning violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

Christian and Jewish groups in Turkey are growing more fearful of Islamic extremism with increasing terror attacks and the government's state of emergency following a failed coup attempt, representatives of the minority communities say.

Christian and Jews represent about two-tenths of one percent of Turkey's mostly Sunni Muslim population of around 80 million, reports VOA.

Pro-government media outlets as well as some government officials have accused them of playing a role in the July coup attempt and have stepped up the rhetoric against Christians and Jews.

At a "Democracy and Martyrs" rally in August, a pro-government, million-strong anti-coup demonstration in Istanbul, three of the speakers linked religious minorities to coup plotters, calling them "seeds of Byzantium, "crusaders," and a "flock of infidels."

Christian and Jewish leaders denounced the coup attempt and were in attendance at the rally in attempt to show solidarity with the government.

Turkey has been in a state of emergency since the coup attempt and tens of thousands of Turks have been jailed for investigations.

Churches in the Black Sea city of Trabzon and Anatolian city of Malatya which witnessed lethal attacks against Christians a decade ago – were the first to be attacked after the coup. Later, an Armenian high school in Istanbul was vandalized, The Globalist reported.

An Alevi worship hall there and homes in Malatya were next, and Christian tourists were harassed in Gaziantep.


Such crimes indicate an alarming trend of scapegoating Turkey's minorities with members of those groups fearing the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-Alevi pogroms of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s that cost the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

Christians and Jews have lived in parts of what is now Turkey for centuries, have been exposed to violent attacks in Turkey's history.

There are an estimated 18,000 Jews in Turkey.

Turkey and Israel were to exchange ambassadors within weeks following reconciliation between the countries earlier in the summer, Amira Oron, Israel's charge d'affaires in Ankara, told Turkey's Anadolu Agency on Aug. 31, but the threats Jews feel remain.

The 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom in eastern Thrace, and the 1955 anti-Christian pogrom in Istanbul, forced tens of thousands of non-Muslims to flee Turkey.

Turkey's government insists that the failed coup was a victory for "democracy," now needs to prove that Turkey's dwindling religious minorities have a place in it, too, editorialized The Globalist.

Turkish human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz told VOA pro-government media have "embraced an alarming narrative of scapegoating Turkey's religious minorities and connecting the coup plot to them."

"Particularly pro-government media outlets have taken an anti-U.S. and anti-EU attitude, which I can call a xenophobic attitude, in which they attempt to demonize the West and accuse it of the coup attempt," he said. "And this narrative targets and harms non-Muslims in Turkey."

Rifat Bali, a scholar who has written several books on Turkish Jews, says that even though the report of minority ties to the coup have no foundation, Christians and Jews are being targeted.

"The nonsensical, so-called news reports that claim that some religious minorities in Turkey are behind the coup attempt are not surprising," he said.

"They are actually quite expected. In an environment where conspiracy theories are commonplace and prevalent, looking for foreigners behind everything becomes normal."

VOA cited news reports that cell members of Daesh or IS as it is sometimes call have plotted terrors attacks on churches and synagogues in Turkey. Daesh sees Christianity and Judaism as an enemy to its extremist Muslim ideology.

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