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Cablegate: Religious Freedom Still Mixed in Se Turkey

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

D. ADANA 000128

1.(SBU) Summary: The situation for the Christian community in
southeast Turkey remains mixed. Christian contacts in
Diyarbakir, Hatay, Mersin and Adana report a generally positive
to neutral atmosphere in relations with local officials, but a
continuing atmosphere of official suspicion and occasional acts
of violence perpetrated by individual police members. Recent
events in Gaziantep (refnotice and septel) indicate continuing
harassment of Christians in that city. End Summary.

Improving zoning for Diyarbakir Church ?

2.(SBU) During a late October visit with PO, Pastor Ahmet
Guvener of the protestant-affiliated Diyarbakir Church said
that he expected that the church would soon have its zoning
obstacles lifted. He said that he had heard this news from
"authoritative Turkish ministry sources in Ankara in the last
few days," but still lacked any documents to substantiate the
promise. He was encouraged by the news, as was an American
religious worker who assists him. As of November 22, Guvener
remained optimistic about a permanet onig hane based on
both verbal assuranes andinermedate zoning decisions offered
by lower level government review committees in early November,
but said that "really permanent changes now would not be final
until January 2005."

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3.(SBU) Should the zoning ordinance obstacles be lifted, they
anticipated remodeling their sanctuary's interior to reflect a
more traditional worship area by removing artificially placed
partitions earlier built to comply with Diyarbakir city zoning
board direction. They also hoped to buy a small lot nearby the
church to build a children's park for community children. They
said that doing so would entail being allowed to receive foreign
donations to fund the purchase. They said that city municipal
leaders, in contrast to earlier national government resistance,
had offered them support-in-kind for the park's construction
once the church could acquire the property.

Adana Christians still surviving, but not thriving

4.(SBU) The Adana-based Cukurova Christan Council's leader, who
represents a collection of several hundred evangelical
protestant Christians, said that the region's "new Christian"
community generally was prospering, but still encountered
official suspicion and formal questioning short of outright
harassment and occasional individual police violence. He noted
that there is no actual church building in the Cukurova area,
but that gatherings of Christians in homes in number up to 30-40
each were known to authorities and had not experienced any
systematic resistance or zoning challenges in Adana or Tarsus.
Efforts to build a church in Mersin have been blocked thus far
by zoning challenges, he said, but the effort to gain official
zoning approval was ongoing. He noted that the community just
started a FM radio Christian broadcast reaching Adana, Mersin
and Tarsus and that Adana police had summoned him last week to
their offices to question him about its funding and the "role of
foreigners in supporting it. He said that he told that it was
partly dependent on foreign funding, had material from Hope
Broadcasting and a Republic of Korea programming source and had
both Turkish and foreign funding. He said that he did not feel
harassed and that the police did not threaten him or the radio

5.(SBU) He also reported that "recently" an Adana policeman
allegedly had broken the nose of a parishioner selling copies of
the New Testament on an Adana street, at a small council-linked
kiosk. He said that the parishioner had gone to a state
hospital for treatment and received appropriate medical
attention, but been denied when he asked for a medical report to
document his wounds. (Comment: Without more details, which the
contact declined to offer, we cannot confirm this report. End
Comment.) Overall, he characterized the atmosphere in the
Cukurova region (Adana, Tarsus and Mersin) as "free of
harassment and generally improving over the last year."
Nevertheless he said that most officials that occasionally
question him or parishioners are suspicious of: 1) why Muslims
would convert to Christianity; 2) whether their work has foreign
ties, which he explained was perceived as explicitly negative;
and 3) from whence their funding stemmed.

6. (SBU) A leading Adana protestant church was informed by
local Turkish National Police (TNP) on November 21 that
unspecified threats against the Christian community in Adana had
been received by authorities. The TNP urged church leaders to
be cautious during the upcoming Christian holiday period.
Christian community leaders expressed reassurance that the TNP
constructively had reached out to them and reflected positively
that TNP had offered additional protection for their church's
neighborhood during December 2003.

Hatay - continuing good story

7. (SBU) In recent PO meetings with Catholic and Eastern
Orthodox leaders in the ethnically mixed Hatay province, no
major religious freedom issues arose. Catholic and Eastern
Orthodox leaders, as well as even Arab ethnic Alawi
representatives, offered positive comments about their
relationship to the local government, including praising a
regular governor-led interfaith council which met several times
annually. Both the Hatay governor and the Catholic priest in
Antakya (modern site of ancient Antioch and seat of the province
government) talked of a Vatican-supported project to develop a
new museum for the city's world-famous mosaic collection which
also could house a pilgrimage hostel for Christian visitors to
the nearby St. Peter's Grotto. Eastern Orthodox leaders in
nearby Iskenderun reflected to the PO that they enjoyed a
positive relationship with government authorities, although they
had concerns about "surprisingly liberal zoning decisions" which
recently allowed a non-historic multi-floor parking garage to
be erected next door to their main church in the region.
Nevertheless, they said that literature, funding and training
travel for their clergy (who generally study in Lebanon) was not
an issue. They, like Jewish community leaders elsewhere in
southeast Turkey, lamented that their community's chief
challenge was economic because of high local unemployment and
the flight of their youth to Istanbul, western Europe and the

Mersin - zoning barriers, encroachment, but stable community

8.(SBU) Contacts with Mersin Catholic leaders reflect no
significant changes since ref. B reporting. The protestant
evangelical community there continues to face zoning challenges
to its effort to establish a church, which were it allowed,
would be situated in the historical quarter of the city nearby
existing Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Many Christian
community leaders reflect that considerable stress has been
placed on the historically Christian religious district of the
city by its location in what has become the upscale center of
the city, leading to encroachment on lands caused by first
unregulated urbanization and later very conservative zoning
backlashes which affect the wider district in an effort to
regulate sprawling growth in the area. For now, the protestant
evangelical community continues to meet in personal homes and is
several hundred strong, although dispersed among several
different districts of the city. Overall the Christian
community in Mersin is quite wealthy and well-placed in
influential city circles. It is stable in size, although there
does seem to be a trend of conversion from the Eastern Orthodox
to the Catholic church. Security authorities, when confirmed by
baptismal records, have allowed identity cards' reference to
religion to state "Christian."

9.(SBU) Comment: The situation for the Christian community in
southeast Turkey is mixed. Recently two different Christian
contacts independently interpreted regional events by noting
that Turkish officials reluctantly are tolerating Christian
activities "where foreigners are shining a light, but that
nothing has changed in the government framework to allow
isolated breakthroughs in tolerance to be applied elsewhere."
Historic Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian communities,
especially in Mersin and Hatay, have struck modus vivendi and
seem under little or no pressure, but that pattern has yet to
emerge for protestant evangelical communities, which seem to
encounter varying levels of official and communal suspicion and
resistance. End Comment.


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