TURKEY’S BACKLASH: Christians pay price as extreme Islam surges after attempted coup

The attempted coup in Turkey sent shockwaves around the world. Here was a Nato ally, thrown into chaos overnight. MARCO GIANNANGELI in Istanbul uncovers how the power struggle has paved the way for a more extreme form of Islam to take hold.

Amid the cacophony of police sirens, low-flying helicopters and rifle fire, there was another sound during the attempt to overthrow president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: The wailing of Turkey’s imams.

From the nations’s 85,000 mosques, their amplified voices were heard calling upon the faithful to take to the streets and defy the plotters. The people listened. 

Some bravely stood in front of tanks as they defended the democratically elected president. Around 240 from both sides died and 1,400 were injured.

For others the night presented different opportunities as hardline Muslim Sunnis, whipped up to a frenzy, targeted Turkey’s Christian community.

In Matalya, a sprawling city in Anatolia, once the heartland of Christianity in the East, they targeted a Protestant church.

The word church is a grand term for the small, modern shopfront nestled in the city’s minority Alevi district.

For, despite a tolerant constitution, Protestants are not allowed to build churches in Turkey. Even the name church must be coupled to the non-threatening “association”.

Gangs chanting “Allahu akbar” rounded on it to smash its glass frontage. “The attack on the church was light. But it’s significant that it was the only shopfront attack in those three days,” said its minister, Pastor Tim Stone, last night. “We were the only targets.”

Nor was Matalya alone. In the Black Sea city of Trabzon others attacked the Santa Maria church, smashing windows and using hammers to break down its door.

The events of that Saturday night were not new for either city. In 2007, three Christian employees of a publishing house for bibles in Malatya were attacked. After being tortured, their hands and feet were tied and their throats cut by five Muslim assailants.

A year earlier Father Andrea Santoro, a 61-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was murdered in the Santa Maria Church. Father Santoro was shot from behind while kneeling in prayer in the church. Witnesses heard the murderer, aged 16, shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

Turkey, which once boasted two million Christians, has barely 120,000 now, fewer even than Iran. But what shocked people most about July 15’s attacks was how much hatred still remains after almost 10 years.

“Erdogan thinks he is the father of the nation. As a father he thinks he is protecting his children by being firm with them.”

Erdogan’s Svengali-like popularity is real. Hundreds of people, even families with young children, have turned out to mass rallies in Istanbul’s Taksim Square every night since the July 15, to watch televised speeches by the leader.

“I went to school with him. He was quiet and a very good soccer player.  Erdogan is a populist. He comes from the street. People understand him. He is the only type of person to take the country somewhere.”

Full article: TURKEY’S BACKLASH: Christians pay price as extreme Islam surges after attempted coup (Express)

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