Armed men threaten Church in Turkey

Three men, one of them armed with a gun and wearing gloves, threatened a Protestant church and its pastor in the Turkish capital city of Ankara yesterday. The culprits fled in a car before police could be summoned.

The attempted attack marked the seventh incident in the past four months of threatened violence against Turkeys tiny Protestant community, most of whom are former Muslims who converted to Christianity.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday (May 6), three men drove up in a blue car to the Kurtulus Church in Ankaras Cebeci district. A heavy-set man about 45 years old went up to the locked church building and began to ring the doorbell repeatedly.

“Where is the pastor? We are searching for the pastor,” he said to a church member nearby who was cleaning his car.

The church member, who happened to be waiting outside the building for a friend, explained that the church was closed and the pastor was not around. He suggested that they return on Sunday, when the church would be open for worship services between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“So are you involved here?” demanded the inquirer.

“Yes,” responded the church member. “Why are you looking for the pastor?”

Ignoring the question, the suspect again asked where the pastor could be found. When the church member again suggested they come back on Sunday, the man demanded, “Tell us! We are going to get rid of that pastor!”

Turning around, the suspect returned to his car and consulted with its two occupants. Then another middle-aged man got out of the car. Holding a pistol in his gloved right hand, the assailant began walking toward the church member, shouting and pointing the weapon at him.

“I ran toward a crowded area 20 meters away,” the church member said. The suspect followed me for awhile. Then we both stopped. He stared at me for a few seconds and then went back to his friends at the car, and they drove off.

The semi-official Anatolian News Agency claimed in its report yesterday that the attackers were drunk. But the church member who interacted with them said he had no indication that the men were under the influence of alcohol.

Although the Kurtulus Church had installed a security camera a year ago, shortly after the knifing murders of three Christians in Malatya, the recording had been accidentally disabled when the computer to which it was linked was switched off last Sunday after the church service.

Together with two of his church members, Kurtulus Church pastor Ihsan Ozbek spent most of last night with police officers investigating the incident. The police seem to be taking the incident and the threat seriously, Ozbek said.

One of his church members remarked, “For sure they don’t want any violence against Christians to happen here in the capital!”

Unfortunately these things keep happening here in Turkey, Ozbek told Compass. “I hope that the state will do something, because we are not in any position to protect ourselves.”

Echoing comments made by the chairman of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches at the Istanbul memorial service for the Malatya martyrs on April 20 (see previous post), Ozbek said, “The Turkish people must decide. Are they going to keep killing us, or are they going to allow us to worship in peace?”

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