This council had been acting just like a shadow cabinet as it was dominated by top brass commanders and enjoyed powers and authorities that were nearly equal and even superior to those of the government under Law No. 2945. The Secretariat General was the mastermind behind this organization. The decisions made mainly by MGK’s military members would be imposed on civilian members, i.e., the top government executives. In a MGK preliminary meeting held in the fall of 2003 when the ruling AK Party was focusing on promoting the country’s bid to become a full member of the European Union, the “threats from missionaries and non-Muslim minorities” were listed as priority issues to be discussed.
According to the MGK, the country faced a big threat from missionaries and non-Muslim minorities. Hundreds of churches were organizing in the disguise of missionary activities to divide the country. The same mindset urged that the Gülen movement, which appeared as a Muslim movement, was actually “a Trojan horse sent to the country.” There were natural allies to supporters of this mentality that fed on the established perceptions of Armenians and Christians. In his book, “Bi Ermeni var: Hrant Dink Operasyonunun Şifreleri” (There’s this Armenian: The Codes of the Dink Operation) journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan wrote, “Some former Islamists, former ultranationalists, former leftist activists, retired military officers and retired high judges banded together under the roof of the Milli Çözüm magazine and met at various panels and platforms as if they had received a signal from somewhere.” Yes, this was exactly what happened.
Every day divinity professors and writers, such as Ergün Poyraz, who the military, it was later found, paid to write propaganda books against the AK Party and the Gülen movement -- some of whom today are standing trial in the case of Ergenekon, a clandestine organization nested within the state, trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- appeared on TV to deliver speeches about how the AK Party was selling the country in return for EU membership and using exaggerated and blood chilling phrases so as to provoke the general public against the so-called missionary threat. As I remember very clearly, one of the divinity professors said, “If the government does not penalize them, our public knows what to do with them.” A MGK document dated Nov. 17, 2003 and signed by Şükrü Sarıışık said the number of missionaries in 2000 in Turkey was 54. Thus, the MGK prepared a 40-page report about these 54 people. It created hell over 54 missionaries in a 74-million EU-member candidate country, with complete ignorance of the fact that conducting missionary activities is a constitutional right. In addition, the number of members of the Protestant community living in the country was only 3,000. That means they must have had other intentions. The incoming disaster was so obvious that the US warned Turkey ahead of the murder of priest Father Andrea Santoro, the assassination of Hrant Dink and the killing of missionaries in Malatya. This process had also been disclosed in WikiLeaks documents the Taraf newspaper published. In these negotiations, the US cautioned that the ongoing harsh discourse might lead to a wave of violence against Christians living in the country, in which case, the US would have a hard time supporting Turkey’s EU bid.
A sermon, prepared by the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate and recited at all mosques across the country on March 11, 2005, read: “They recruited so-called sacred armies in order to destroy Muslims and Islam as the only religion acceptable to God, but they could not attain their goals. ... As was the case in history, the same forces are today working in a planned and organized manner to severe our people’s connection to Islam, as they see this religion as the biggest obstacle to their interests and domination. ... They are trying to strip our children and youth of their faith in Islam, making use of ethnic separatism, sectarian differences, economic and political problems and even natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods.”
This sermon raised concerns for Westerners. They wanted the Turkish authorities to take measures. To EU and US officials, Mehmet Aydın, the state minister in charge of religious affairs, said: “They can do as they please. … ‘There is no salvation without surrendering to Jesus’ is prayed in churches every day. The missionary movement is extremely planned and has political motives, rather than being about conveying the message of a religion or enjoying the freedom of religion.”
According to the documents leaked by WikiLeaks, the AK Party members who had previously worked at the Religious Affairs Directorate did not approve the content of the sermon or Aydın’s remarks. They said the missionary threat was being exaggerated and Aydın’s attitude didn’t reflect the AK Party’s views about freedom of religion. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan felt that the rising danger was actually speaking to the AK Party. “Just as German authorities allow thousands of mosques to be opened in Germany, we should act in the same manner. We should not be afraid of the freedom of faith. Don’t be afraid of the freedom of faith,” he said.
I will continue to discuss how we stepped into the missionary threat trap in my next column.