A journalist friend of mine will get crazy about this article. She’d say “too many subjects in one single article” or “it’s too long and complex to be read easily, and there are too many points to consider”. Yes, I know. But in Turkey, the agenda is full of such frivolities that public opinion takes so seriously; one leads to another, and one ends up with such a confused and paralyzed mind; such articles are a matter of daily reality, and one has to live with them. As one does with chaotic traffic, and stupid rules of everyday life that no-one obeys.
First there was the referendum. In accordance with the prerequisites of European Union membership, and long term goals of the prevailing government such as eliminating the pressure to their administration by the status quo supporters in Turkey, majority in the parliament come up with a package of constitutional changes. The package included several amendments, most of which were supported even by the opposition. But a few, especially concerning the changes in the way that higher court members would be appointed, were highly criticized. The vote in parliament were a little shy of the needed 2/3rd majority; so according to the constitution, people had to approve the package by voting on a referendum. Until this point everything seemed in order.
As the referendum approached, it turned into a fanfare. Both government and opposition leaders approached the public as if they were demanding votes for a common election, and the discussions went on and on on their private virtues, past and capabilities instead of the virtues or hence the lack of, of the amendments in the package. The language immediately became rude and what is left over is only a bunch of insults and outrage.
Ah, yes, ‘yes’ votes won, and now the administration have a huge task of amending a huge number of laws accordingly. The real discovery about the referendum is that both sides of the divide in Turkey, namely the status-quo supporters (so called right wing and ultra-nationalists) versus liberals and conservatives (read islamists) of every make and mold, both are radicalized to the extreme. Neither party has any tolerance for each other, both are very hostile to people of different views and the society is getting bipolar continuously. Both sides seriously think the others are traitors of the nation.
And both parties think all Christians living in the country have already sold it out.
First there was the mass at Soumela near Trabizond. Greeks around the world collected there for a mass to celebrate “The Dormition of the most holy lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary” on August 15th, under the scrutiny and permissions of the state. However since the venue is considered to be a museum, the permissions for a mass there only had to be executed outside the premises. Among cries of threats and assaults hundreds of Greek Orthodox believers gathered, prayed and danced to their own music afterwards. Among them, Pontus Greeks celebrated an unexpected return to their motherland. Feelings and hysteria were galore.
The public at large in Turkey was agitated. Since they saw every Greek or Armenian existence on their land as a threat in their conscience, squeaking voices were heard in the media criticizing the state for “letting enemies of the state to demonstrate on the motherland soil”.
And there came September the 19th. After 95 years of void, the Holy Cross Church on the island of Akhtamar in the Lake of Van witnessed a resurrection of enormous importance. But not the resurrection of the Holy Cross it was named after. Eastern Orthodox Armenians were excited everywhere came the month of September. It has long been decided that newly renovated Church of Holy Cross in Akhtamar would be inaugurated for service and this service would be repeated once every year on the same date. But then again, it was claimed to be a museum as well sharing the fate of many churches in Turkey including Agia Sophia in Istanbul. So at first the state refused to put a cross on op of the church of Holy Cross. All Armenian churches including the patriarchate in Armenia protested this development, and declared they would not attend the proceedings.
Turkish state fall back against the protests and declared it would erect the cross on top of the building after the mass of September the 19th. This, we will yet to see. But for many, who attended the mass yesterday, it was a day to remember despite everything. Many had come to Turkey for the first time, a land they consider their motherland. The fact that Akhtamar is considered to be one of the most holy places in southern Armenia also helped the outburst of feelings among the prayers. Armenian Eastern Orthodox Patriarch supported the reasons of other churches for not attending the ceremony in his inauguration speech, but he said it was nonetheless a beginning for mending of old wounds. It was indeed. Near future would be good grounds to test the sincerity of Turkish authorities to provide a lebensraum for its dwindling Christian minorities and their rights to perform not only their religious traditions but also their cultural customs.
Yet this author finds it necessary to connect the dots here. In the turn of the first decade of the millennium in Turkey, we are now faced with a bipolar society, with raised levels of both intolerance and nationalism. Acts of violence against religious or ethnic minorities are on the rise every year since 2002 elections. There seems to be a dialogue between minority leaders and government officials but in the final analysis, every request hits the same concrete wall as it did for the last 80 something years. And yes, “fear and loathing in las vegas” is the name of the game after the deaths of Hrant Dink (a Turkish-Armenian journalist), two fathers of the Catholic Church and a Christian publisher.
Turkey has a record of failing every test of sincerity against its minorities for centuries. If it has a tendency to change, albeit rising nationalism among its citizens, it is yet to be seen. I’m afraid that these efforts will end up as food for the upcoming elections in 2011, and will be forgotten for another lifetime.
(For background information and in depth information on above mentioned facts please read Fréderike Geerdink’s “Church or Museum“.)