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Islamists win third term in Turkish elections: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2011 p 8. June 21, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Turkey.
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, the AKP, has a third four year term following general elections in Turkey on June 12.  The Islamist-backed AKP won approximately 50 per cent of the votes cast, giving it 326 of the 550 seats in parliament—31 seats short of the majority needed to overturn the secular constitution instituted in the 1920’s by Kemal Atatürk.

The consolidation of power by the Islamist AKP is ”overwhelmingly bad,” observed Barry Rubin, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.  The AKP “will be in power for four more years, infiltrating institutions, producing a new constitution, intimidating opponents, altering Turkish foreign policy, and shifting public opinion” against the West “to dislike Americans and Jews more.”

However, the AKP’s failure to increase its margin has disappointed its supporters.  As Jürgen Gottschlich of Der Spiegel notes, this AKP victory “almost seems like a defeat.”

On the eve of the vote, the suffragan bishop in Europe, the Rt. Rev. David Hamid released a pastoral letter to the Church of England’s congregations in Turkey, noting Sunday’s vote would be an “important election”

He observed, that “some of the questions facing the country such as its duty of care for minorities, the future integration into the EU, the continuing development of a foreign policy that may be a bridge between East and West, are certainly of interest to us all in Europe.”

Bishop Hamid added that he had also seen reports on Turkey’s “internal debate about changes to the present set of constitutional checks and balances” and on press freedoms.

The bishop asked Anglicans in Europe to pray for the people of Turkey as they cast their votes.  “We are aware of the growing importance of Turkey in today’s world,” Bishop Hamid said, “and of the challenges that any government will face in continuing to build a flourishing, modern society.”

The world has noted the contrast between the stability of Turkey on the one hand and the struggles of its Arab neighbours on the other. We pray for a deepening role for Turkey as a beacon of democracy, tolerance and economic growth which benefits all its citizens.”

Turkey’s Gülen movement under criminal investigation in the US: The Church of England Newspaper, April 21, 2011 p 7. April 21, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Terrorism, Turkey, Washington.
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Fethullah Gülen

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has commenced an investigation into the activities of Turkish Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen and his educational and charitable network.

Called the “world’s top public intellectual” in 2008 by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, Gülen is a controversial figure.  Considered an inspirational religious leader by millions of Turks and Muslim followers around the world, he has also been called the “world’s most dangerous Islamist” by US investigative journalist Paul Williams.

In 1998 Gülen left Turkey after the government sought to arrest him for seeking to overthrow the government.  He fled to the United States and currently lives in a 45-acre compound in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Over the past decade Gülen has built a network of schools across the world that allegedly call for the creation of a global caliphate.

In the United States, the Gülen movement has opened 125 schools that receive government assistance under the “charter school” system.  The federal investigation, according to the March 21 Philadelphia Inquirer report, is not linked to terrorism but to allegations that Gülen school employees, granted visas to enter the United States to teach at the schools, are forced to kick back 60 per cent of their salaries to the Hizmet, or Service, movement Gülen founded.  Prosecutors have declined to comment, however, as the investigation is on-going.

A spokesman for Gülen told the Inquirer the reclusive imam has no relationship to the schools, though he might have inspired the people who founded them.

Since his arrival in the United States, Gülen has cultivated media, religious and political leaders.  At a Jan 20, 2011 meeting hosted by the Rumi Forum, a Turkish think tank in Washington, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane praised Gülen as a “magnificent man.”

“In the 50 books he has written he has probably been one of our greatest voices. He is a scholar and communicator who has really addressed — not only the role of religion — but the place of religion as an antidote to violence throughout the world, stressing the importance of the need to come to the table for dialogue and conversation,” the bishop said.

The bishop added to his postprandial encomium saying “I really want to make a point in recognizing him and honoring him for the work he continues to do for global peace among all of God’s children.”

However, diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks and published in the Turkish newspaper Taraf on March 17 show US government officials in Washington and Ankara were concerned with the growing influence of the Gülen movement.

One 2005 cable said the Gülen community seems to espouse “moderate Islam,” but  as it had a global mission of fostering Islamism, it was an open question how the movement would act once it consolidated its hold on power.  “It is not possible to confirm the Turkish police are under the control of the Gülen community members, but we have not met anybody who denies it,” one cable said.

Turkish analysts in the West have also questioned the motives and methods of the Gülen movement.  On Dec 3, 2010, Dr. Sebastian Gorka of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies linked the Gülen movement to the “soft jihad” campaign waged by Islamists who seek to use Western institutions and liberties to bring about the mastery of the world by Islam in an interview with WABC’s John Batchelor Show.

Bishop Chane told The Church of England Newspaper he was “troubled by references that have been made about Gülen being a soft jihadist. Clearly the use of the word jihad demonstrates a significant lack of understanding of the term and a baffling use of the word soft.”

“If in fact there is an investigation underway that links Gülen to radical, religiously motivated terrorists then let the facts of the investigation be known,” the bishop said.

Politics behind murders of Turkish Christians, prosecutors claim: The Church of England Newspaper, March 25, 2011 p 8. March 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Turkey.
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A Turkish court this week ordered the arrest of five army officers and two civilians for their alleged part in the 2007 murder of three Christians in the Turkish city of Malatya.

Prosecutors have alleged the murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German missionary Tilmann Geske were part of a plot by the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon movement to destabilize the government and pave the way for a military coup.

However, the Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has used the spectre of a military coup to intimidate its political opponents.  On July 14, 2008 police arrested 86 army officers, businessmen, journalists, lawyers and politicians and charged them with being part of an Ergenekon conspiracy to topple the government.  Since coming to power in 2002, the Erdogan government has arrested hundreds of political opponents on treason and criminal charges.

On April 18, 2007 the three Christians were attacked in the offices of a Christian publishing company in Malatya.  They were bound, gagged and their throats cut.  Five men were subsequently arrested for the killings.

In 2008 the leader of the alleged Malatya murder gang, Emre Gunaydin, was linked by prosecutors with two of those arrested in the Ergenekon plot and with a journalist arrested on weapons charges who is alleged to be part of the network.

According to the Turkish press, files seized by police during the 2008 arrests indicated Ergenekon tracked the activities of Christian converts in Turkey, believing them to be enemies of the state

One document dated Jan 7, 2005 concerning Christians in Izmir, Mersin, and Trabzon, stated “Those who have recently accepted Christianity show increasing devotion to their own rules,” according to an Aug 14, 2008 report in Radikal.

In 2005 Roman Catholic priest Fr. Andrea Santoro was shot and killed in Santa Maria Church in Trabzon, and later that year a second priest, Fr. Adriano Franchini was stabbed in Izmir. One of those murdered in Malatya came from Izmir.

The charges laid against the five arrested army officers have not been made public by prosecutors, and it is not clear if they will be tried with the five men under indictment for the 2007 murders.

Christmas cancelled in Northern Cyprus: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 7, 2010 p 6. January 7, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Persecution, Turkey.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The United States has called upon the Turkish Cypriot authorities to honour the right of freedom of worship for Greek Orthodox residents in the Turkish-controlled northern zone of the island. In a statement released on January 3, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom chastised the Turkish Cypriot authorities for breaking up a Christmas service in the village of Rizokarpaso.

Police entered the Church of St Sinesios and demanded that worship activities cease because the local Turkish Cypriot authorities had not granted the congregation permission for the service. Following the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks in 1974, the Greek population of Rizokarpaso fell from approximately 3,500 to 350.

“It is wrong and a symbol of religious intolerance and repressive policies of the Turkish Cypriot authorities supported by Turkey’s occupation troops to require such a small church community to seek permission to hold Christmas Liturgy,” said US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chairman Leonard Leo.

“Requiring such permission is simply a bureaucratic ploy that violates the universally protected right to freedom of religion and belief. The Greek Orthodox population has declined steadily in the area of Cyprus under the control of the local Turkish Cypriot authorities and Turkey’s occupation troops. The Turkish Cypriot authorities’ suggestion that such a small religious community would require advanced crowd control planning is not credible. We urge the US government to press Turkish Cypriot authorities to remove any hurdles imposed on Greek Orthodox Christians that prevent them from freely practicing their faith,” the USCIRF said on January 3.

The USCIRF is a bipartisan government commission charged with monitoring violations of religious freedom worldwide and making policy recommendations to the president, Congress and the State Department.

Tutu condemns Gaza flotilla deaths as ‘inexcusable’: The Church of England Newspaper, June 4, 2010 p 3. June 16, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Turkey.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Turkish flagged motor vessel Mavi Marmara in a clash with the Israeli navy was “inexcusable” the former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu said on May 31.

Nine civilians died on May 31 when Israel Defence Forces marines boarded the Mavi Marmara and attempted to re-direct a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships that were seeking to break the blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory.

Videos released by the IDF show masked activists attacking the IDF, who were armed with non-lethal crowd control weapons when they boarded the ship to search for weapons. After several IDF marines were attacked and the side arm wrestled away from one, the IDF was given permission to return fire.

Pro-Palestinian activists have denied this account and have accused Israel of piracy and breaching international law. Human Rights Watch released a statement on May 31 saying it had not been able “to conduct its own investigation to determine which account is accurate,” but reiterated its call for a lifting of the blockade, calling it an “unlawful collective punishment.”

On May 31 a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Cameron “deplored the heavy loss of life off the coast of Gaza earlier today. He reiterated the UK’s strong commitment to Israel’s security, but urged Israel to respond constructively to legitimate criticism of its actions, and to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of this unacceptable situation.”

After a prolonged debate the United Nations Security Council on June 1 condemned the “acts” that led to the deaths of the nine activists, but under pressure from the United States, did not exclusively condemn Israel. The UN called for an impartial investigation of the incident and added that it believed the blockade of Gaza was “unsustainable.”

Archbishop Tutu, joined by former US President Jimmy Carter and former Irish President Mary Robinson, condemned “Israel’s attack on the aid shipment and the resulting killings and injuries as completely inexcusable.”

They called for a “full investigation of [the] incident and urged the UN Security Council to debate the situation with a view to mandating action to end the closure of the Gaza strip.”

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the raid was an “unnecessary loss of human life,” and reiterated the Vatican’s concern over the situation.

“It’s a very painful fact, especially for the unnecessary loss of human life,” Fr Lombardi told reporters on June 1. “The situation is being followed in the Vatican with great attention and concern.”

Ecumenical News International reported the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA “strongly condemns this massacre against unarmed civilians which visibly violates international law and human rights.”

Pro-Palestinian NGOs also denounced Israel for its lethal response to the attack. War on Want released a statement saying that “for too long the international community has ignored international law over Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and allowed its government to act with complete impunity. Now Israel has turned its fire on international human rights activists, the world must finally say enough is enough.”

However, NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based think tank, criticised as inaccurate and intemperate these claims saying they displayed a “façade of morality exploited for … political warfare.”

They argue the flotilla was a deliberate provocation that was designed to create an incident. The flotilla was funded in part by the Turkish Islamist group, the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) a member of the Union of the Good, an umbrella group of Islamic organisations that channels money to Hamas, NGO Monitor reported.

It further stated that French analyst Jean-Louis Bruguiere “claimed that IHH maintained contacts with al-Qaeda in Milan and Algerian terrorists in Europe; recruited militants for fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, and planed a ‘central role’ in the al-Qaeda bomb plot targeting the Los Angeles airport.”

In 2008 Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak banned IHH for its links to Hamas, and deported its agents to Turkey.

Turkey sued over access to churches on Cyprus: CEN 11.27.09 p 4. December 7, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Greek Orthodox, Property Litigation, Turkey.
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The Church of Cyprus has filed suit against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights, charging the Turkish government has violated international human rights treaties by preventing Greek Orthodox worship at religious sites in the Turkish controlled northern third of the island.

On Nov 23, a lawyer for the church said the lawsuit would seek the return of 522 churches, monasteries, chapels and cemeteries in the Turkish occupied zone. Greek Orthodox Christians have been forbidden access to the sites since the Turkish invasion of 1974 and many of the sites are now derelict or used for secular purposes.

A speedy resolution of the dispute is unlikely, as negotiations between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north over unification are at a standstill.

On Nov 18 the European Court of Human Rights held a Grand Chamber hearing before a 20-judge panel to review the case of Emopolous v Turkey and seven related cases arising from the 1974 occupation.

In the Emopolous case, the applicants are Greek-Cypriots who claim to be owners of property located in Northern Cyprus. They have alleged that the Turkish authorities are preventing them from having access to their property and disposing of it as they wish, violating Articles 1 of Protocol No. 1, 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 13 (right to an effective remedy), 14 (prohibition of discrimination), and 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights

The Emopolous case was lodged with the Court in 1999, and in May 2009 the case was assigned to the Grand Chamber for a hearing. A decision is expected next year.

Turkey rules that headscarves violate secular state: CEN 10.22.08 October 22, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Islam, Turkey.
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Allowing women to wear Islamic headscarves in state schools violates the secular principles of the Turkish Republic, the country’s Constitutional Court said in an opinion released on Oct 22, defending its June decision to overturn pro-Islamic legislation passed by parliament earlier this year.

Parliament’s lifting of the ban on women wearing headscarves in universities — considered a political sign of Islamist sympathies — had “indirectly challenged” the secular nature of the Turkish Republic, the court held according to a report published by the Turkish news site, Hurriyet.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Turkey rules that headscarves violate secular state

Politics, not religion ‘behind Turkey killings’: CEN 8.30.08 August 31, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics, Terrorism, Turkey.
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Politics, not religion, may have been the motive for the killing of three Christians last year in Turkey, according to testimony presented in the trial of five men accused of the murders.

On Aug 21 prosecuting attorneys requested police investigate possible links between the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon movement and the April 18, 2007 torture and murder of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German missionary Tilmann Geske in the southeastern city of Malatya.

According to Turkish press accounts of the trial, the alleged ringleader of the Malatya murders, Emre Gunaydin was a member of an ultra-nationalist youth movement, the Ulku Ocaklari, and was linked to a retired general and journalist alleged to be part of Ergenekon network.

Ergenekon is a clandestine ultra-nationalist terrorist organization allegedly linked to the country’s military and intelligence services. Also known as the “deep state,” Ergenekon has sought to destabilize the Turkish government, preparing the way for a coup. On July 14, 2008 police arrested 86 army officers, businessmen, journalists, lawyers and politicians and charged them with conspiracy to topple the government.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Politics, not religion 'behind Turkey killings'

Armenia moves to end isolation: CEN 5.13.08 May 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Armenian Apostolic, Church of England Newspaper, Diplomatic & Foreign Affairs, Roman Catholic Church, Turkey.
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Armenia’s Church and State have begun a new round of diplomatic overtures designed to end the nation’s diplomatic and economic isolation in the Caucasus.

Last week the country’s Foreign Minister signaled its willingness to move on from the memory of the 1915 Genocide while on May 7 the head of the Armenian Church called for an end to “intolerance and confrontation” across the region.

The Patriarch of the Armenia Apostolic Church sounded the chord of reconciliation during his visit to Rome last week. In an address on May 7 in St Peter’s Square to a congregation of 20,000, His Holiness Karekin II (pictured) spoke of Armenia’s attempts to gain international recognition of the country’s sufferings at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. “Today, many countries of the world recognize and condemn the genocide committed against the Armenian people by Ottoman Turkey,” the patriarch said.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper Religious Intelligence section.

Armenia moves to end isolation

No plans to return church, says Turkey: CEN 5.12.08 May 12, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church, Turkey.
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There are no plans to return the Byzantine era St Paul’s Church in Tarsus to the Roman Catholic Church, Turkish government officials said last week.

On May 10, the Turkish Daily News reported that officials from the town of Tarsus said they were unaware of any request made by Cologne’s Archbishop Cardinal Joachim Meisner on behalf of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference to return the Church of St Paul to ecclesiastical control.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

No plans to return church, says Turkey

Turkey told to return ancient church: CEN 5.7.08 May 7, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, EU, Roman Catholic Church, Turkey.
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ROMAN CATHOLIC leaders will support mosque building in Germany, if the Turkish government returns the Church of St Paul in Tarsus to church control and permits the construction of a pilgrimage centre.

Writing in his diocesan newspaper, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, said he had written to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urging his government return the church, built on the site of St Paul’s birthplace, as a gesture of European cooperation.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Turkey told to return ancient church

Turkish vote on property laws is a test of freedom: CEN 2.29.08 p 6. March 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Turkey.
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olli-rehn.jpegLast week’s vote by the Turkish parliament to permit Christian and Jewish foundations to reclaim property seized by the state will not impact the Anglican Churches in Turkey, the vicar of Istanbul tells The Church of England Newspaper.

Turkey’s Anglican churches “remain on land understood to be given to the use of HM Government so long as they are used for their original ecclesiastical purposes,” Canon Ian Sherwood reports.  “As such, they seem to remain free of the complexities under Turkish law.”

It was important to “hold on to church buildings in Turkey for future generations,” he noted, as Turkish law makes building a church “nigh on impossible.”

On Feb 20 the Turkish parliament passed a law permitting Christian and Jewish organizations to redeem portions of the £75 billion in church property expropriated by the Turkish government following the 1974 rule of the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals (the Yargitay) that held religious foundations could not acquire property by purchase or donation, if it were not already registered with the government in 1936.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held the Turkish court ruling violated the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered Turkey to return the seized properties or pay compensation.

Turkey’s bid to join the EU would likely be blocked if it did not “ensure the return or indemnification of the seized assets of non-Muslim foundations,” the Istanbul think-tank the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation reported.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn (pictured) applauded the move saying “the adoption of the new law on foundations is a welcome step forward.”

“This is an important issue for Turkey, and one that all EU institutions have regularly highlighted as important to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms for all Turkish citizens,” he said.

However, Rehn said, “It is implementation that will be the test of Turkey’s progress in ensuring rights and freedoms.”

Turkey ruling helps Christians and Jews: CEN 2.22.08 February 22, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Orthodox, Turkey.
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TURKEY’S parliament has approved a law permitting Christian and Jewish foundations to reclaim property seized by the state.

The proposed law will allow religious minorities to redeem a portion of the £75 billion in property seized by the state in the wake of political disturbances following the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and meets some of the conditions set by the EU for Turkish membership in the organization.

The law also will permit Muslim groups to receive financial support from overseas groups.

Nationalists denounced the vote as an affront to Turkish sovereignty, while secularists fear the lifting of the ban on foreign money will strengthen the growing Islamist movement in Turkey, with activists now able to draw upon financial support from Saudi Arabia to further their political ambitions.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

President Abdullah Gül (pictured)

abdullah-gul.jpg

Turkey moves to relax headscarf ban: CEN 2.07.08 February 7, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, EU, Islam, Politics, Turkey.
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THE TURKISH parliament has given its preliminary approval to a government-backed constitutional amendment that would allow women university students to wear Islamic headscarves in classes.

Lawmakers from the ruling Islamist AK Party along with an opposition nationalist party backed the amendment that would repeal a 1989 headscarf ban for students in higher education. The vote was 401-110. Turkish lawmakers early Thursday voted to approve a constitutional amendment to allow female students to enter universities wearing Islamic headscarves.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan (pictured)

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Turkey moves to relax headscarf ban

Anger as Bishop ordains Turkish man to priesthood: CEN 1.18.08 p 6. January 17, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Turkey.
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The Byzantine dispute between the Bishop of Gibraltar and the Anglican congregations in Turkey was brought to a head on Saturday, after Bishop Geoffrey Rowell ordained a Turk to the priesthood in Istanbul over the protests of the resident Anglican community in Istanbul.

Istanbul Anglicans and the Diocese in Europe have traded accusations of bad faith following the disputed Jan 13 ordination, with the Anglican Chaplain of Istanbul, Canon Ian Sherwood OBE declining to attend the ordination of the Rev. Engin Yildirim.

The “furtive” ordination of Mr. Yildirim at the former Dutch embassy chapel was “most peculiar”, Canon Sherwood said, and its consequences would damage the Anglican community. “It is unthinkable that a diocesan bishop in England would behave in a parish in this manner and ordain a man to set up an alternative church 100 yards from a long-established church community,” he said.

However, diocesan spokesman Paul Needle disputed these charges, saying Canon Sherwood and the leaders of the Anglican Community “had been aware of the impending ordination for some time.”

Tensions between Bishop Rowell and Istanbul Anglicans arose in the wake of the 2003 al-Qaeda terror attack in Istanbul when 30 people, including British Consul General Roger Short, were killed and over 400 wounded when two trucks driven by suicide bombers exploded outside the consulate, severely damaging the consulate
chapel, St Helena’s.

The Foreign Office declined to restore St. Helena’s and angered the resident Anglican community when it was revealed the British government had instead given permission to a property speculator to level the churchyard for commercial redevelopment. Following a protest that led to questions being raised in Parliament, the Foreign Office backed down in 2005 and began restoring St Helena’s.

However the controversy soured relations between the bishop and the congregation. Relations took a turn for the worse after Bishop Rowell proposed ordaining a Turkish man.

Bishop’s Unity Plea:CEN 12.14.07 p 7. December 14, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey.
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The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt led the Anglican delegation to last week’s meeting of the 9th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches. (MECC)

Gathered in Paphos, Cyprus from Nov 26-30, church leaders from the Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical traditions released a statement affirming Christian unity amidst continued political and social upheaval. The MECC is a fellowship of churches in Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Cyprus that seeks to foster cooperation among the disparate Christian minorities of the region.

Dr. Anis reported that the plight of Iraq’s Christians was a topic of concern for the Assembly, which “expressed its deep sorrow for the oppression and injustice with which the region’s population is afflicted, of wars and occupation, of destruction and death, of capacity and suppression.”

The delegates expressed their hope that the recently concluded Annapolis summit would break the cycle of violence in the region and urged Western Christians to stand in solidarity with their fellow believers in the Muslim world.

The final communiqué “looked forward to the day when people in the Middle East are liberated from the occupation and the injustice in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Cyprus.”

They also called upon the people of Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon “to be united and to cease being apart and killing each other” such that “the unity that accepts the other with all its differences is strengthened through the honest and free dialogue.”

While united in their opposition to the political and ideological forces facing Middle Eastern Christians, concerns over the “sheep stealing” underlay the deliberations. Evangelical Christian groups have made in roads amongst the younger members of the Orthodox and Coptic communities, creating friction between the regions traditional churches and its newer arrivals.

Anger as Turkish priest is suspended: CEN 2.1.07 p 1. February 1, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Turkey.
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THE BISHOP of Gibraltar in Europe has suspended the vicar and parish council of the Istanbul chaplaincy in the wake of a Byzantine dispute over the Church of England’s first ethnic Turkish minister.

On Jan 4 Bishop Geoffrey Rowell suspended the parish council and the chaplain of 18 years standing,Canon Ian Sherwood OBE, pending the outcome of an episcopal visitation. No statement of cause has been given to them explaining the reasons for the suspension,council members tell The Church of England Newspaper.

The bishop’s actions have enraged members of the Istanbul Church Council who have accused him of not being entirely straightforward in his dealings and even with bullying Canon Sherwood. Critics charge the Istanbul dispute is but the latest in a series of pastoral failures and miscues in the Diocese in Europe and that the bishop seeks to “sacrifice Father Ian and assert his authority over the local congregation.”

Churchwarden Trey Farmer urged Bishop Rowell to consider the ramifications for the safety of the Anglican community of deploying a convert from Islam as an Anglican priest in Istanbul, noting his decision led the council to believe he was “uninformed and naïve about the politics,leadership and consequences of actions in Turkey.”

Tensions between the bishop and parish council first arose in the wake of the al- Qaeda terror attack of Nov 27, 2003, in Istanbul when 30 people, including British Consul General Roger Short, were killed and over 400 wounded when two trucks driven by suicide bombers exploded outside the consulate, severely damaging the consulate
chapel, St Helena’s.

Controversy arose when the consulate declined to repair St Helena’s, and erupted when the council learned the consulate had given permission to developer to level the churchyard for commercial redevelopment.

Following a protest that led to questions being raised in Parliament, the Foreign Office backed down in 2005 and began restoring St Helena’s (pictured).

Members of the council told us relations soured during his controversy with the bishop developing a “strange antagonism” toward them, and recently took a turn for the worse when a Turkish Anglican convert was accepted for ordination by the bishop.

Harsh anti-proselytism laws, coupled with a rise in nationalist and Islamist fervour in Turkey had prompted the council to ask Bishop Geoffrey Rowell in July to postpone ordaining or deploying the Rev Engin Yildirim to Istanbul.

On Jan 5, the day after the suspension was handed down, Bishop Rowell ordained Mr Yildirim to serve his “title” as pioneer minister to the congregation in Beyoglu” – the Istanbul district home to the expatriate congregation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Jan 27 also suspended Canon Sherwood as Apokrisiarios, his Personal Envoy to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, pending the outcome of the visitation.

A spokesman for the Diocese in Europe told CEN Canon Sherwood “has absolutely not been suspended as Chaplain, although by the nature of a Visitation all authority for
the Chaplaincy has temporarily devolved to the Bishop in Europe.”

The diocese also dismissed charges leveled in the Turkish press that Bishop Rowell sought to “nativise” the congregation in Istanbul, and use it as a beachhead for the conversions of Turks as “completely untrue.”

Mr Yildrim will minister to an existing congregation of Turkish Anglicans in another church in Istanbul. His licence to officiate specifically restricts him to that congregation and in no way impedes, threatens or otherwise affects the work of English-speaking Anglican congregations in Istanbul,” the diocese said.

Claims that Mr Engin had also published calls for converting Turks to Christianity on a Baptist website were overblown, the diocese explained. The quotations attributed to Mr Engin date “back a number of years before [he] considered responding to a call to ordination within the Anglican Church. Engin is adamant that he would not be so
insensitive as to make those remarks today,” the spokesman noted.

While declining to speak to the particulars of the Istanbul affair, the diocese noted the term “suspension does not involve a disciplinary aspect but which is simply a statement of fact. It is wrong and unhelpful to suggest that a suspended Church Council is under disciplinary measures.”

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