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Cablegate: Protestants Try Adaptive Approach to Church

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Seventeen nascent Protestant churches have
adopted a novel legal tactic designed to circumvent
regulations that for years have made it nearly impossible to
receive zoning approval for a church or prayer group. The
success or failure of this strategy depends on the outcome of
the churches' attempts to win legal recognition in a series
of ongoing court cases. End Summary.

In Legal Limbo

2. (SBU) Poloff recently met with Attorney Mustafa Demir, who
represents most of the American Protestant groups in
Istanbul, including a total of 22 churches and one
now-defunct school (Martyn International Academy). In past
meetings, Demir and Amcit Protestant leader George Bristow
expressed their frustration at not being able to open a
church under Turkish law. In fact, Demir said, there
is no provision in Turkish law, either positive or negative,
for the establishment of a new church. Requests for a
building to be zoned as a church are typically ignored or

3. (SBU) For these reasons, Protestant groups often give up
trying to establish churches within any legal framework,
instead opting for informal arrangements, converting shops or
apartments into places of worship, and hoping that the
unregistered church will go unnoticed. This approach
typically works for a time, but in a matter of months police
take notice, or neighbors complain, and the informal church
is shut down, the leaders often charged with zoning

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The Mosque-like Approach

4. (SBU) Ironically, most Turkish mosques similarly inhabit a
legal no-man,s-land, in that they too usually lack zoning
permission. Upon completion of a new mosque, the leadership
applies for benefits that, according to Turkish law, are
given to all religious institutions: free water, electricity,
gas, trash collection, and so forth.

5. (SBU) Demir sees provision of these services as a means to
secure legal recognition without the zoning issue face-off.
He has advised his clients first to buy, lease, or renovate
the property they wish to use as a church. Then, the church
requests provision of municipal services that all religious
institutions are entitled to. Also, the church notifies the
local police that they have some security concerns, and
requests police protection. Finally, if GoT authorities warn
the churches of their lack of a zoning permit, they file a
counter-suit asking for legal recognition from the state,
claiming that the utilities and police protection constitute
evidence of their recognized status in a manner similar to
any mosque.

6. (SBU) To date, 17 churches have initiated cases seeking
such legal recognition. Of the 17, three have had initial
rulings: one finding in favor of the church, one against
(stating that the church was not a legal entity and thus
could not bring suit against the state), and one which has
been postponed for further examination. Demir hopes that if
the one positive ruling stands on appeal, it can be used as
precedent to buttress the claims of the other churches.

Under Another Umbrella

7. (SBU) The same group of Istanbul Protestant churches had
previously run up against difficulties in running an
unregistered school, the Martyn International Academy (MIA).
Though the case is still pending, the board members of the
now-defunct school admitted to breaking Turkish law in the
operation of an unlicensed educational institution (see

8. (SBU) In a similarly pragmatic manner, MIA has found a
means to re-open in another location on the Asian side of
Istanbul, under the auspices of the newly opened Istanbul
International School of Camlica. The school has already been
registered, and the former MIA students and faculty have been
added on as the "English Language Section" of a school that
also offers instruction in Turkish and Korean. 200 former
MIA students have thus been able to attend classes under the
new school,s name.

9. (SBU) Comment: Having exhausted their earlier strategies
of normal application, and quiet evasion, Demir and Bristow
hope that their new "adaptation" strategy will prove more
fruitful. Final resolution of the ongoing cases will soon
show whether or not their hopes are misplaced. End Comment.

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