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Cablegate: Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation Reports

VZCZCXRO1099
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0409/01 2141103
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011103Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8357
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 7840
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 2369
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000409

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV TU AA OSCE
SUBJECT: ISTANBUL PROTESTANT CHURCH FOUNDATION REPORTS
RISING THREAT

REF: A. 06 ISTANBUL 1528
B. 07 ADANA 56
C. 08 ANKARA 19

ISTANBUL 00000409 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Istanbul Protestant Church (IPC)
officials lament that their status as a "foundation", while
it enables them to hold real estate, has the downside of
increasing government control over the church's finances.
They also indicate that despite official recognition of their
status, they, along with other Christians in Turkey, face an
increasing number of threats. END SUMMARY.

Distinguishing between Associations and Foundations
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (U) IPC Pastor Carlos Madrigal, IPC Foundation President
Timur Topuz and IPC Foundation Administrator Fatih Bilger
told us July 25 the GOT approved IPC's foundation status in
2000, the first minority religious community not included in
the 1923 Lausanne Treaty to receive that status. The IPC now
has 70 to 75 baptized congregants, he said. The General
Directorate of Foundations (GDF) granted the IPC foundation
status after what the IPC leadership calls an "unexpectedly
easy" two year process resulting in its property being
officially recognized as a place of worship (Ref A).

3. (U) Madrigal, a Spanish citizen who became IPC's pastor 23
years ago, explained that Turkey's Foundations Law is the
sole method through which religious communities (Muslim and
non-Muslim alike) can hold real estate. While the law
requires cabinet approval for the creation of a foundation
(vakif), often a lengthy process, foundation status allows
religious organizations to operate legally and openly. The
Foundations Law provides some protection against arbitrary
bureaucratic action by requiring a court judgment to close a
foundation, he added. According to Foundations Law, the
minimum amount of capital needed to establish a foundation is
determined each year by Parliament. However, the minimum is
instead determined on a case by case basis depending on the
objective of the applicant foundation. The GDF would require
a foundation with the objective of building a university to
have greater capital than one with the intention of hosting
an annual conference.

4. (U) Madrigal told us that becoming an association (dernek)
under the Associations Law is much easier and more affordable
than applying under the Foundations Law, taking as few as
three months with no capital requirement. As many as fifteen
Protestant groups have registered as associations rather than
foundations, according to IPC. Madrigal pointed out that,
because the governor approves and terminates an association's
status, associations have fewer protections from potentially
capricious provincial governments.

5. (U) Religious associations and foundations both can apply
to have the GOT officially recognize their place of worship,
entitling them to free electricity, IPC said. Unregistered
religious communities have no legal standing and are unable
to own property in their name or open a bank account. Topuz
explained that he serves as IPC's president because the law
requires foundations to have a Turkish citizen as their
administrative leader, defined as the person with a legal
role in interactions with the government.

6. (SBU) Pointing out the downside of registration, Madrigal
recounted that two months ago, authorities requested the
IPC's financial records in order to conduct an audit. The
church received no response to its request for more
information until five officials arrived to conduct an
unannounced audit. Madrigal contends that registration
introduces this additional government control over the church.

More Threats than Anticipated
-----------------------------

7. (SBU) Despite IPC leadership's hopes that official
recognition would improve their situation (Ref A), threats
have in fact increased over the years, they said. Madrigal,
Topuz and Bilger agreed the situation is far worse than ten
years ago. In January, Bilger received a threat from one of
two Turks who had recently begun attending Church services.
Bilger reported the incident to the police and prosecutor,
with no response from either. Two months later, the IPC
received an e-mail from a group purporting to be a

ISTANBUL 00000409 002.2 OF 002


pro-Christian militia that promised to protect Christian
organizations from atrocities such as the Malatya murders
(Ref B), if a deposit was made to the bank account specified
in the email. The IPC reported the incident to the police,
again with no response.


8. (SBU) The IPC leadership also related the recent problems
of a sister church in Eskisehir, attended by several Iranian
Christian asylum seekers with an Iranian pastor providing
services in Farsi. After witnessing one asylum seeker
residing at the Church perform voluntary Church services, the
police filed charges against the Church, claiming that it
should have applied for a business license in order to use
foreign labor; the Church was charged 5500 YTL by the Social
Insurance Institution (SII) for supposedly employing an
unregistered worker. The Eskisehir church has opened seven
court cases against the Social Insurance Institution for each
of the seven charges filed regarding the same worker. The
Eskisehir Church was also targeted in May, when security
cameras caught a man placing three bullets in front of the
Eskisehir church. The church filed a case against him, which
continues.

A Turn for the Worse
--------------------

9. (SBU) Madrigal said the deteriorating security situation
leaves church members feel increasingly threatened,
especially Turks who converted from Islam. In the 1990s, the
IPC reported no threats and no cases opened against them by
the government, but after the Malatya murders things have
gone downhill, he said (Ref C). Members feel that nowadays
non-Muslims are simply tolerated, have no rights, and are
supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)
in words only, instead of the deeds and tolerance that are
desperately sought.
OUDKIRK

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