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The 24 schools belonging to Foundations and bodies associated with Christian minorities in Turkey are experiencing a critical phase again. The beginning of the new school year saw the drop in the number of students enrolled, which could push some of those school institutes to close down. This is what Toros Alcan, president of the Armenian School Foundation Sur Hac Tibrevank and a representative of the Foundations of Minorities within the Turkish Foundations Assembly denounces. In some statements, from the Turkish press, Alcan pointed out the decisive factors behind the crisis of minority schools that legislation equates these school institutes to private ones, greatly reducing the forms of state support they can access. Alcan recalled that minority-based schools operate without profit, their rights are guaranteed in the Lausanne Treaty, and their status cannot be homologated to private schools.
In the last years of the Ottoman Empire, schools belonging to minority communities in the territory of today’s Turkey were 6437. Their number dropped dramatically to 138 in the early years following the foundation of the Turkish Republic when the nationalist politics of the Union and Progress Committee, aiming to build and impose the unique model of the “Turkish citizen”, began to inspire the policy of expulsion of minority groups. The nationalist mentality also saw minority schools as obstacles to such homologation process.
In recent years, namely between 2014 and 2015 (see Fides 4/11/2014), there was a significant increase in the number of schools belonging to the Foundations and institutions linked to Christian communities in Turkey and authorized to receive financial support by the State. In that school year, schools belonging to Foundations linked to various Christian communities had become 55. Of these, 36 belonged to the Armenian community, 18 to the Greek community, and a kindergarten belonged to the Syro-Orthodox community. Already a year later, the number of schools linked to Christian minorities had dropped dramatically, attesting to the current quota of 24 schools.
The difficulties caused the closure of schools especially linked to the small Greek Orthodox minority. Already then – reported local sources consulted by Agenzia Fides – Turkish lawyer Nurcan Kaya, Coordinator of the Minority Rights Group, underlined the urgency of defining a regulatory framework that specified the rights and duties of these schools, clarifying the state funding mechanisms and eliminating the obligation of Turkish citizenship for students (a clause that significantly reduces the number of potential pupils). (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 24/11/2017)
In the Boston Globe, the always worthwhile John Allen analyzes today’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Although the two men will agree on issues like economic inequality, Allen says, they will likely differ on others, including, notably, Mideast policy.
Pope Francis often highlights the crisis Mideast Christians face; President Obama, not so much. “Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk,” Allen writes, “while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda”:
On Egypt, Obama took a “pox on both your houses” stance last summer with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army after a military council declared controversial President Mohamed Morsi deposed. The Vatican was more favorable to the military intervention, inclined to see it less as a coup and more as a reflection of popular will.
In Syria, the Obama administration has made the removal of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for any negotiated end to that country’s civil war, while the Vatican is more skeptical about regime change, in part out of concern that whatever follows Assad might actually be worse.
Underlying these contrasts is that the Vatican’s reading of the Middle East is heavily conditioned by the perceptions of the Christian minorities in these countries, who generally see either a powerful military or strong-arm rulers as a buffer between themselves and Islamic radicalism. They often point to Iraq, where a once-thriving Christian community has been gutted in the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein.
Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk, while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda.
When tomorrow’s meeting wraps up, it’s likely that the statements issued by both sides will be friendly. As US Ambassador to the Vatican Ken Hackett said in a recent interview, “In this kind of high-level meeting, it’s not about making anybody feel bad.”
That said, it’s also not clear that a dramatic “reset” in church/state relations is likely either. It’s more plausible that the relationship will continue to be a complicated ballet, with each side looking to extract what it can get, driven more by strategic interests than any deeper spirit of common cause.
You can read the full article here.
Democracy is a good thing, but the persecution of Christians that can result from democracy is not.
On Holy Thursday, the National Geographic Channel aired a three-part series about the rise of Christianity entitled “Jesus: Rise to Power.” For those of us who are familiar with the history of the period, it was a mixed bag. After all, how can you tell the story of Christianity’s “rise” without once using the word “resurrection”?
Still, one of the talking heads made a point well worth noting: many more Christians have died for the faith during our lifetimes than died for the faith between the first Easter and the AD 313 Edict of Milan, which ended Roman persecution of Christians.
A very sad example of this pattern took place this past week in Egypt. Coptic Christians protesting the killing of four Christians were attacked by a mob as they left a funeral at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
The mob “pelted them with rocks and firebombs and fired bird shot, forcing them back inside the complex.”
The police response, much like the Western media’s, was to treat the event as an example of “sectarian violence.” Thus, they “fired tear gas, and the gas canisters landing inside church grounds caused a panic among the women and children,” to the delight of the assailants outside the church.
Labeling this event and other attacks on Coptic Christians as “sectarian violence” is the worst kind of moral equivalence. Violence against Christian minorities in the Islamic world is endemic, from Nigeria to Pakistan. And this violence goes largely uncommented on, except on those rare occasions when Christians tire of turning the other cheek. Then, the tired cliché “sectarian violence” gets trotted out.
What’s being labeled “sectarian violence” is actually an attempt by some Muslims in Egypt to make life so miserable for Christians that they’ll either convert or leave the country. For groups such as the Salafis, who are aligned politically with Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood, the very presence of Christians in Egypt is an affront.
Thus, while countries like Egypt may be notionally committed to religious tolerance, if not actual religious freedom, their ability and arguably, their willingness to enforce this tolerance is doubtful at best.
A statement from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said that he regarded an attack on the cathedral as an attack on himself. But this leaves the lack of security at the cathedral and the firing of tear gas into the cathedral an even bigger mystery.
So is Morsi being disingenuous, or is Egypt, as presently governed, incapable of extending even the most rudimentary religious freedom to a population whose presence there long predates Islam?
A point made by “Jesus: Rise to Power” was that most of the persecution of the early Church was local in nature. With a few infamous exceptions such as Nero’s persecution and the Diocletian persecution of the early fourth century, Christians suffered at the hands of local officials and mobs. Little has changed in seventeen centuries.
A great deal of the ambivalence toward the so-called “Arab Spring” and the events in Syria comes from the concern over what will happen to the Christians in these countries. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was followed, in very short order, by open war on Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The ouster of Hosni Mubarak has accelerated the attacks on the Copts. Who knows what might happen to Christians in post-Assad Syria?
While we may not want to prop up autocrats, we should have an ongoing concern not to make things worse for our already-suffering Christian brothers and sisters. And we must pray and speak out on their behalf. And that includes for Pastor Saeed, who has been wrongly imprisoned and physically abused in Iran for months. His wife Naghmeh joins me for an update on her husband on BreakPoint This Week. To listen, go to BreakPoint.org and click on the “This Week” tab.