Nov 27 2014

Christians regarded as foreigners. Will Francis call attention to
country's Christian past?

Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, and especially since
the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has become the
destination--or passage way--for hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Many of these are Christians from Iraq and Syria, and many are young,
single people, prepared to take great risks. In early November, a boat
carrying illegal migrants from Turkey to Bulgaria capsized just after
coming through the Straits of the Bosporus, on their way to Bulgaria.

The bulk of refugees end up in Istanbul, the vast metropolis capable
of absorbing so many peoples. "It is difficult to know exactly how
many Christians there are, since neither the UN High Commission for
Refugees (UNHCR) or the Churches themselves keep any sort of head
count according to religious affiliation. We welcome all those who
are in need and come to us," Bishop Francois Yakan, the patriarchal
vicar for the Chaldeans of Turkey, told international Catholic charity
Aid to the Church in Need.

Most of the refugees are dreaming of a new start in Europe or the US.

But that can take a very long time. Meanwhile, in Turkey refugees have
no official right to work. "Sometimes they have to wait for years,
and it is terrible for families who have been scattered and dispersed
to the four corners of the earth. I cannot resolve all the situations,"
said the bishop, who works closely with the UN, the Turkish government
and both domestic and international humanitarian associations.

The main countries offering visas are the United States, Canada and
Australia. Europe has closed its doors, except in very exceptional
circumstances, as happened this summer (2014) when France and Germany
opened their doors to Christians and Yazidis forced out ISIS from
Mosul and other cities on the Nineveh Plane.

Amer Bahnan has come here from Mosul with his family. They arrived 18
months ago. "Life had become impossible for my family in Iraq. I went
to Syria first of all, then to Lebanon and finally came to Turkey."

Amer has had four heart operations. "We have been living on the road
since 2008... We no longer know where to go now. In Iraq everything
was taken from us, stolen; we no longer have a house; no money,
no dignity, nothing."

Most of the refugees live in the suburbs, outside the city center,
crowded into rented apartment blocks, in units shared by many
families--often in unhygienic conditions. A woman tells her story:
"I am a widow, with my five children. We left Duhok 16 months ago. My
application has just been rejected by the American Embassy." She now
wants to try to go to Canada, where her brothers are already living.

None of the family is left in Iraq.

Resident Christians do not fare much better.

There are believed to be only 100,000 Christians permanently living
in Turkey, a very small fraction of the country's total majority Sunni
Muslim population of 75 million. The Christian share of the population
was once much larger, but their numbers were cut down during the
Armenian genocide and the mass killings of Syriac Orthodox Christians
between 1895 and 1915, when several million faithful perished. Today,
there are still thousands of churches and monasteries scattered across
the countryside--many of them ruined and abandoned.

Christians in Turkey today are regarded as 'foreigners' in their own
country, although there is freedom of worship. In recent years several
Catholic and Protestant clergy have been murdered and in 2007 Hrant
Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian background, was assassinated.

An advocate for the country's acknowledgement of the genocide of the
Armenians, he was an activist on behalf of minority rights in Turkey.

A significant portion of the Turkish public still suspects Christians
of wanting to destabilize the nation.

It is in this environment that Pope Francis will make his Nov. 28-30
pastoral visit to the nation. Surely, one of his objectives is to
call attention to Turkish Christian past, as witnessed to by the
cities of Ephesus and Antioch, which played a prominent role in the
life and mission of St. Paul. The Pontiff will also further strengthen
relations with the Orthodox world in meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch

This article, written by Sebastien de Courtois, was reprinted courtesy
of Aid to the Church in Need.


From: Baghdasarian