Pearsall's Books

This blog is defunct! Check out my new music blog at

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Christian Migration To Turkey

I'm up early this morning (I went to bed at ten last night) and I've just been reading Randy McDonald's very interesting post at GNXP on potentialities for Turkish immigration to Europe depending on whether or not Turkey is admitted to the European Union. One point in particular jumped out at me in the section he quoted from a paper written for the Centre for European Policy Studies by Refik Erzan, Umut Kuzubas and Nilufer Yildiz entitled "Growth and Immigration Scenarios for Turkey and the EU" (PDF format).

Today, officially sanctioned immigration into Turkey has for all intent and purposes dropped to a trickle. Since the early 1990s, however, Turkey has witnessed a new form of irregular immigration involving nationals of neighboring countries, EU nationals, and transit migrants. Turkey allows nationals of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the Central Asian republics to enter the country quite freely either without visas or with visas that can easily be obtained at airports and other entry points. A large number of these people are involved in small-scale trade. However, some overstay their visas and illegally work as household help, commercial sex workers, and laborers, especially on construction sites and in the tourism sector.

It is very difficult to estimate the numbers of such irregular immigrants in Turkey. However, figures ranging from 150,000 to one million are often cited. To these groups must be added trafficked people, particularly women. These are people who have either been coerced or deceived into traveling to Turkey for commercial sex work, and remain in Turkey against their wishes. There is also an increasing number of EU member-state nationals engaged in professional activities who are settling in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as well as European retirees in some of the Mediterranean resorts. They, too, constitute a relatively new phenomenon in terms of immigration into Turkey, and their numbers are estimated at 100,000-120,000.

This reminded me of an article I read a couple months ago entitled A Spiritual Journey: In Muslim Turkey, A Minister's Quest: Starting A Church" about the efforts of an American minister to buy and refurbish an old chapel in the Mediterranean city of Antalya.

Upon arrival, Rev. Bultema started studying Turkish, while continuing church studies. In 1993, he became a fully ordained minister of the 2.5 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA). He took a post as part-time pastor for a Presbyterian congregation in Istanbul -- which had long met beyond the reach of Turkish law, on the grounds of the consulate-general of the Netherlands.

In 1996, he moved to Antalya, answering an ad for a full-time pastor from an expatriate group. "One day, I decided I wanted to go to church," recalls Carolyn Bulca, a former U.S. military contract worker and member of the group. "I asked my Turkish friends where there was one, but they could only point to ruins. I said 'Hey, if you can have mosques in Europe, how come there's no church here?' "

Rev. Bultema started out with an Easter service in a hotel. His congregation grew into the dozens, including everyone from Russian prostitutes to African migrants, he says. Soon, he says he noticed plainclothes Turkish police sitting in on his services -- and later asking him to find somewhere else to hold them. A police spokesman says he doesn't recall any complaints being filed. "We're civilized here," he says. Rev. Bultema says the governor of Antalya province requested photocopies of the passports of his congregation. The governor declined to comment.

When Rev. Bultema went to the mayor's planning office to ask about building his own church, "they just laughed," he says. "They said a church would never happen." The mayor at the time, Hasan Subasi, says national laws made it difficult for his office to do much for Rev. Bultema's group, although "we wanted to help them."

Islamist groups, Turkish right-wingers and secular leftist nationalists have all pressured the Turkish government for rules limiting proselytizing and on land purchases by foreigners. Americans are particularly suspect these days, some say.

"It's a defensive reflex," said Nizamettin Sagir, chief of the National Action Party in Antalya, which often takes anti-foreigner stands. "Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think America is being run by a Christian sect that has cast a hungry eye on our region. It's like a new crusade."

It's worth reading the rest of the article. Interesting stuff.

The question of Christianity in Turkey is a fascinating one. In William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain: Journeys Among The Christians of The Middle East there is a great amount of detail about the lengths to which the Kemalist governments of Turkey have gone to eradicate the Christian history of Anatolia, especially in regards to the Armenians, and especially in remote areas far from places of tourist concern, such as Istanbul, where it would be impossible to erase echoes of Christianity without a major international outcry.

(I) went to see a cousin who was working as an architectural engineer in Erzerum, attempting to reintroduce silk farming to the region. Over dinner one night I happened to mention what I had seen (note: the disappearance of Armenian artifacts from Sivas - P.), whereupon my cousin said that he had had a similar experience himself only the previous month. He told me that for four years he had been in the habit of taking an annual fishing holiday in the village of Maydanlar in the hills to the north of Tortum. On previous occassions he had admired a magnificent collection of early medieval Armenian cross-stones (known as khatchkars) which lay piled up near the village well; but this year the stones had all vanished. When he asked the villagers what had happened to them they became visibly nervous and would not tell him; it was only when he was alone with one old man that he learned what he believed to be the real story. Government officials from Erzerum had come through the village the previous month; they had asked the villagers for the whereabouts of any Armenian antiquities, and then proceeded to smash the stones up. Afterwards they had carefully removed the rubble." (p. 83)

Perhaps the current movement towards EU status will encourage the Turkish state to finally face up to the history of Christian Anatolia and, particularly, Armenian Anatolia? It is just a shame that so much has already been lost.

|| RPH || 10:58 AM || |