Semir Serkek, the pastor of Presbyterian Grace Church in İstanbul’s Bahçelievler district, told police on Monday that assailants broke into the church late on Saturday. “They asked me how on earth could there be a Christian church in a Muslim neighborhood. They forced me to recite kalima-i shahadah [the Muslim proclamation of faith] or [they said] they would kill me. When I told them to be respectful, one of them kicked me in the chest. Then, they fled, vowing to kill me,” Serkek, 58, told the private Cihan news agency.
The incident, which occurred one day before Easter Sunday -- a major holiday in the Christian world -- was condemned by Turkey’s Protestant community. Umut Şahin, the secretary-general of the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey, said on his Twitter account on Monday that he condemns “the mentality that raised a hand against an old man and that wanted to sour our holiday.”
Religious Affairs Directorate head Mehmet Görmez also called Serkek on Monday to express his sadness over the incident. Görmez, who was in Denmark attending an event celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, wished the pastor a speedy recovery.
Edirne governor excludes Orthodox priest
In related news on Turkey’s treatment of its non-Muslim minorities, Edirne Governor Gökhan Sözer ordered the exclusion of Aleksandır Çıkırık, the priest of a Bulgarian Orthodox church in Edirne, from a circle of officials holding hands as part of a gathering to attract attention to the deterioration of Edirne’s Selimiye Mosque, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Monday, about 1,000 people gathered demanding that authorities address the problems faced by the mosque in Edirne’s Selimiye Square. People started holding hands to form a human chain, but Governor Sözer refused to hold the hand of Çıkırık, saying, “Are they doing this with our muftis and imams in Bulgaria?”
Garo Paylan, a representative of Turkey’s Armenian community, was quoted by the Radikal daily as saying that the attitude of the state toward non-Muslims displayed by the government has been in place for centuries. “Unfortunately, in this country the state turns everyone else into ‘the other,’ while it constructs the Turkish identity. This is why Hrants [referring to Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated in 2007] are killed in this country. If a mufti or imam is not included on a protocol list in Bulgaria, that is a shame on that country. Turkey shouldn’t participate in the same shame by doing the same thing.”
Çıkırık later told journalists: “We gathered here on this day for peace and brotherhood. Please let’s not emphasize such incidents on a day like this,” when asked about his opinions of the governor’s attitude.