Turkey: Attackers Firebomb Protestant Church

Friday, November 10, 2006

(Compass Direct News) -- Unidentified assailants hurled six Molotov cocktails at a Protestant place of worship in western Turkey last Saturday (November 4), breaking windows and inflicting minor damages on the exterior of the building.

The attack followed months of repeated harassment by unknown elements against the small Protestant congregation in the town of Odemis, 65 miles east of Izmir.

According to Odemis security police, fragments of the exploded bombs were sent to Izmir for examination by judicial forensic experts. The explosives were described as homemade devices placed inside beer bottles.

Pastor Mehmet Sahin Coban of the Odemis Love Protestant Church said he was away from the building, where he and his family live, when the attack occurred about 10:30 p.m. last Saturday (November 4). After his young son telephoned him, saying some windows had been broken and flaming objects thrown against the walls, Coban notified police and then hurried to the scene.

Attackers had been throwing stones at the church building almost every night for the past two weeks, Coban said. Although he had reported the incidents to Odemis security police, he said no action was taken.

But within minutes of the November 4 firebombing attempt, a police team from the Public Order and Anti-Terrorist division came to examine the damages, take fingerprints and record Coban’s official complaint.

Local journalists came the following morning to cover the attack, although initial reports in Yeni Asir newspaper and several local dailies on Monday (November 6) identified the building only as a private home.

But a front-page article replete with photographs in the November 7 edition of the Odemis Kent newspaper was headlined clearly, “Molotov Cocktail Thrown at Church in Odemis.”

“I have freedom to worship as a Protestant,” the newspaper quoted Coban as saying. “Six years ago I changed my religious identity to Protestant [Christian]. I have freedom of religion as a citizen of the Turkish republic. The religion written on my identity card is my religion.”

Registration Denied

The 46-year-old Coban, who said he converted to Christianity 14 years ago, said his small congregation has been unable to obtain formal “church” status since it began meeting seven years ago.

First formed in 1999, the 25-member congregation has met in its present location on Selvi Street since 2002. Following established procedures, the group informed the district administrator’s office of its location on both occasions, stating the address and times of their worship services.

In February 2004, Coban said the church had applied in writing to the Odemis municipality to register the location as a place of worship. But 10 months later, the city sent a formal refusal.

Local security police have since pressured the group to close the church because it did not have legal status, Coban said.

After the building’s windows were broken several times during 2005, the church had installed some shutters, as well as iron grilles over windows.

Just two weeks ago, the pastor said, he came out to his car parked in front of the building to find that someone had cracked and broken several of the vehicle’s windows.

Despite the cost, Coban said, his congregation is now looking for a lawyer to help them secure their rights as Turkish citizens, in order to establish their church as an official place of worship.

“Throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at our place of worship is not going to force us to change our faith,” Coban said.

Another Turkish Christian pastor from a Muslim background told Compass that, while he was not surprised by such incidents, “We would like to see a more helpful attitude toward us from the authorities.”

EU Report

Yesterday the European Union Commission’s long-awaited 2006 progress report on Turkey noted, “Attacks against clergy and places of worship of non-Muslim religious communities have been reported.”

Issued from Brussels, the latest report was critical of overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey’s failure to resolve the glaring disparities in its legal restrictions against its religious minorities.

“Overall freedom of worship continues to be generally respected. However, there was no progress in addressing the problems encountered by non-Muslim religious communities, some of which are not officially recognized,” the report said.

Copyright © 2006 Compass Direct