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Cablegate: Minister Declares Missionaries "Separatist and Destructive"

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 001935

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/04/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM TU OSCE
SUBJECT: MINISTER DECLARES MISSIONARIES "SEPARATIST AND DESTRUCTIVE"

REF: A. ANKARA 1511
B. ANKARA 814

Classified by Polcouns John Kunstadter; reasons 1.4 b and d.

1. (C) Summary: State Minister Aydin, who oversees the GOT's
Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), released a
statement labeling missionary activities in Turkey
"separatist and destructive" and implying that missionaries
are part of an organized effort by foreign governments to
create divisions in the country. A Protestant pastor told us
threats against Christians are on the rise, and missionaries
have decided to halt activities until tensions subside. Two
MPs from the ruling AK Party (AKP), both former Diyanet
presidents, told us they believe some of the language in
Aydin's statement and in a recent, nationwide anti-missionary
sermon was inappropriate, and said they would raise their
concerns with Aydin and others. End Summary.

-----------------------------------------
Minister Calls Missionaries "Destructive"
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) State Minister Aydin issued a four-page written
response to a question from an AK MP about the "threat" of
missionaries in Turkey. In the paper, publicly released
March 27, Aydin asserts that missionary activity in Turkey is
"separatist and destructive" and implies that missionaries
are part of an organized effort by foreign governments to
create divisions in the country. He claims that missionaries
are concealing their true motives by operating under cover as
doctors, teachers and other professionals. Aydin advises
Turkish citizens to report missionary activity to
authorities.

3. (U) Excerpts from Aydin's paper include:

-- "History as well as contemporary developments have
demonstrated that missionary activities are not an innocent
act of communicating one's religion or exercising religious
freedom, but a highly planned movement with political
motives."

-- "The Diyanet believes that missionary activities aim to
distort historic, religious, national and cultural unity by
leading to changes in the religious belief that lies at the
heart of the most fundamental values of our society, whereas
our people have cohabited peacefully in Anatolian territories
for centuries by upholding these same values. We also deem
it to be a violation of the most intimate freedom, the
freedom of religion."

-- "Today, rather than Christian priests, missionary
activities are conducted by doctors, nurses, engineers, Red
Cross workers, human rights defenders, volunteers for peace,
language teachers, computer instructors, sports organizers,
etc."

-- "Concealing their true objectives and aiming at weaknesses
among our citizens, some foreigners coming to Turkey with
tourist visas conduct missionary propaganda."

-- "The Diyanet considers these activities as separatist and
destructive since they may create a basis for a spiritual and
cultural gap and distort our religious/national integrity in
the long run, and considers it necessary that our citizens
notify the Diyanet and all relevant government institutions
about such activities."

4. (U) Aydin states that the Diyanet has established a
"Missionary Monitoring Committee" to follow missionary
activity in Turkey and has developed an "action plan against
missionary activities." He also notes that the Diyanet will
hold a symposium titled "Missionary Activities in the Turkish
World" April 15-17 at March 18 University in Canakkale. He
further reports that missionaries have converted a total of
368 Turks, according to information compiled by the Diyanet.

5. (U) Interior Minister Aksu also issued a paper on
missionaries, in which he assures Parliament that "missionary
activities in Turkey are followed up by judicial
authorities."

-------------------------------------------
Pastor: Threats Against Protestants on Rise
-------------------------------------------

6. (C) Ihsan Ozbek, pastor of the Kurtulus Church in Ankara
and general secretary of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant
Churches, told us the statements by Aydin and Aksu are the
latest in a series of developments in recent months that have
increased the pressure on Turkey's tiny Protestant community
of approximately 3,000. As reported reftels, bible
distribution by Protestants last Christmas sparked
anti-Christian media coverage, and the Diyanet issued an
anti-missionary sermon delivered in mosques across the
country March 11.

7. (C) Ozbek believes the anti-missionary statements reflect
a new GOT method of opposing Christianity. In the past, he
said, police would often detain and beat Protestants
performing missionary work. Protestants in those days were
"like shadows," never mentioned in the media. Today, by
contrast, nationalists and Islamists have free rein to bash
Christians in the press. It is now political and religious
extremists, rather than police, who carry out the harassment
and intimidation, which the authorities rarely prosecute.
Government leaders, meanwhile, make statements effectively
pouring gas, not water, on the fire. "The March 11 sermon
and the statement by Aydin hurt us a lot," he said. "They
want to appeal to nationalistic elements."

8. (C) Ozbek said threats against Protestants have been on
the rise since December, reaching a peak in February. Turks
opposed to Christianity have made telephone calls and sent
email messages threatening to kill Protestant church members.
They have smashed church windows with rocks in a number of
cities. Ankara police have searched Ozbek's church several
times recently after receiving bomb threats. Ozbek said
missionaries now confront an open hostility from some members
of the public, a hostility that was largely absent before.
He said Protestants have stopped distributing religious
literature and will maintain a low profile for at least a few
months, in the hope that the tensions will subside.

--------------------------------------------- -
AK MPs: Anti-Missionary Rhetoric "Exaggerated"
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (U) We discussed the GOT's anti-missionary campaign in
separate meetings with two AK MPs who are former Diyanet
presidents -- Tayyar Altikulac and Mustafa Sait Yazicioglu.
Both MPs claimed they had seen press coverage of the Aydin
statement and the March 11 sermon (sermon text reported
reftel A), but had not seen the actual texts. Altikulac
defended the right of the Diyanet to promote Islam and advise
Muslims not to be persuaded by missionaries, as long as it
avoids provoking conflict, defining missionaries as a
"threat," or accusing missionaries of having "political
motives" without evidence. We replied that, in our view, the
March 11 sermon and Aydin statement had violated those
principles.

10. (C) Altikulac had the Diyanet fax him a copy of the
sermon. After a first reading, he told us he saw no problem
with the text. But he read it again after we pointed out the
sermon's indirect reference to the Crusades and the
implication that missionaries in Turkey are working on behalf
of foreign governments. His tone suddenly changed. "The
first time, I read it as a Turkish Muslim and saw no
problem," he said. "But the second time, I realized how it
looks from an outsider's perspective. I didn't like it."
Altikulac said the Diyanet should not make reference to the
Crusades in discussing religious issues today -- Turkey needs
to look to the future, not the past.

11. (C) We had a similar meeting with Yazicioglu, who also
defended Aydin and the Diyanet, only to change course after
we showed him texts of the sermon and statement. Before
reading Aydin's statement he told us, "I have known (Aydin)
for 30 years; I doubt I will disagree with anything he says."
But he later acknowledged that Aydin "exaggerated" when he
labeled missionaries a threat to "national unity."

12. (C) Both MPs claimed they would discuss the matter with
Aydin and Diyanet President Bardakoglu, warning them to be
more careful in their statements on Christianity. They both
averred that Aydin and Bardakoglu probably approved the
documents without reading them (Note: This is highly
unlikely, in part because the Diyanet worked on the March 11
sermon for several weeks before issuing it. End Note). They
insisted the sermon and statement do not accurately reflect
the views of the AKP leadership, which they asserted is
committed to religious tolerance. Yazicioglu argued that the
anti-missionary statements stem from an unfortunate mixing of
religion and politics. He said many pious Turks fear that
the country's EU drive will erode the influence of Islam in
Turkey, and elements of the GOT feel the need to address
those concerns. The issue is highly sensitive, but in the
long run the GOT will conform to EU standards regarding
religious freedom, he said.

-------
Comment
-------

13. (C) Missionaries in Turkey draw the combined ire of
Islamists and nationalists; the former view them as a threat
to Islam, the latter as a threat to national unity. Most
missionaries are Protestants, who are few in number and
lacking in influence, and there are no domestic elements
willing to take up their cause. The GOT's anti-missionary
campaign places Turkey in direct conflict with Western
concepts of religious freedom. The GOT, representing a
country that is officially 99 percent Muslim, is declaring
religious diversity a security threat at a time when it is
supposed to be striving to join an EU committed to the
principle of religious freedom.

14. (C) Altikulac and Yazicioglu appeared, on reflection, to
understand our concerns about the anti-missionary rhetoric.
However, we are not certain they will follow through on their
commitments to raise the issue with key officials, or how
they might do so. The efforts of the Diyanet, an arm of the
Turkish State, to promote (Sunni) Islam as the only true
religion and defend it against other religions appears to go
far beyond the practice of other European countries with
state religions, and contradicts the GOT's avowed commitment
to religious tolerance.


EDELMAN

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