Turkish Conference 'Researches' Missionary Activity

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Government co-sponsors academic symposium.

by Rajiv Lee

ISTANBUL, June 7 (Compass) -- In step with months of intense media focus on missionary activities in Turkey, the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate coordinated a symposium this spring in conjunction with a local university to present academic research on the controversial topic.

Entitled “Missionary Activity in the Turkish World,” the March 15-17 seminar hosted by Canakkale’s March 18 University attracted a variety of professors, academics and local researchers.

Presentations at the conference included reports on Christian missionary activities within Turkey as well as among Turks in Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, France and Germany.

After seeing an announcement posted on a local website about the symposium, two Turkish Christians from the Yeni Dogus (New Birth) Church in Izmir decided to attend. Since one of them had a beard, he was reportedly mistaken to be a hoca (Islamic teacher), and the conference personnel were very helpful, even showing him how to charge up his computer.

“He was not recognized until the woman who gave her report on the Izmir church came up to make her presentation,” one source said. Although the two church members were allowed to stay, they were asked to stop making an audio recording of the sessions.

According to one of the Izmir visitors, female academic Melek Calisir had come to their church some months earlier, claiming to be a university student preparing for a class. She had conducted her survey in the church, visited the café associated with the church and talked to the people there.

“A few churches like ours and the Istanbul Presbyterian Church were presented objectively, because we had welcomed the people who came to do research,” the attendee said. “But other reports were less positive.”

He said about 40 professors and academics gave reports at the symposium, naming the individuals involved in missionary activities, especially those in eastern Turkey.

It was clear that conference organizers viewed missionary activity at least in part as a security issue, with several professors from the police academy giving presentations. Their lecture titles included “Missionary Activity from the Viewpoint of European Human Rights Court Decisions,” “Effect of the Implementation of European Union Reforms on Religious and Cultural Activities” and “The General State of Missionary Activity in Turkey: Strategic and Tactical Methods and Applications.”

Not a word was published in the Turkish press about the Canakkale symposium. “The aim was apparently not to open it to the public, but just to academic circles,” one of the Yeni Dogus visitors said, although it was announced that a book and transcript of the sessions would be made available later through the university.

When a discussion ensued after a report on the Syrian Orthodox Christians in Turkey, the visitor recalled that the moderator declared, “If they are such good citizens, and have not betrayed the state in any way, why don’t they just become Muslims?”