Turkey seizes all Christian churches in Diyarbakir

Here’s a less than sunny story to start off your Sunday, but since it involves churches I suppose it’s appropriate. We only recently discussed the rather difficult position Barack Obama finds himself in when dealing with the provocative nature of our supposed ally Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. His track record as a positive force for change has been questionable at best, and this week he adds another negative mark to his tally. In the war torn city of Diyarbakir, the state has seized control of all the non-Muslim churches, including some iconic properties which date back more than a dozen centuries. (Nick Gutteridge)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control of six churches in the war-torn southeastern city of Diyarbakir in his latest move to squash freedom of speech and religious movement.

The state-sanctioned seizure is just the latest in a number of worrying developments to come out of increasingly hardline Turkey, which is in advanced talks with the EU over visa-free travel for its 80 million citizens.

Included in the seizures are Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, one of which is over 1,700 years old.

They have now effectively become state property – meaning they are run by the government – in a country with a dire human rights record where about 98 percent of the population is Muslim.

Diyarbakir is situated on the Tigris River and is locally referred to as the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan, so it’s been a focal point of the fighting between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Erdogan’s administration is claiming that the seizure of the properties is part of a “restoration and historical preservation” effort which sounds good on paper but is more than questionable under the circumstances. There doesn’t seem to be any corresponding takeover of the Mosques in the area, though the government technically owns those already. (Turkey is a Muslim nation to begin with.)

This seems to be part of a pattern for Erdogan. Earlier this year the government took control of the newspaper Zaman which had formerly been critical of some of the administration’s policies, but now (unexpectedly) seems to take an editorial stance which is quite favorable to the government. (The Guardian)

The Turkish daily Zaman, the country’s biggest newspaper, has published its first printed edition under new management, two days after the government seized the paper and removed its editor-in-chief.

Formerly an opposition newspaper critical of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development party (AKP), Sunday’s edition firmly toed the government line.

“In less than 48 hours, the new admin turned seized Zaman into a propaganda piece of the regime in Turkey,” Sevgi Akarcesme, the editor-in chief of Today’s Zaman, an English-language sister publication, tweeted.

So this is the quality of allies we are apparently stuck with in one of the most troubled parts of the world. Shutting down the freedom of the press, taking over religious institutions which are not approved by the government and locking up journalists and political opponents aren’t exactly the hallmarks of a western leaning nation. The country is essentially under a Muslim dictatorship at this point, but they occupy such a critical position in both the war against ISIS and the EU refugee crisis that everyone is largely willing to look the other way.

Although he’s been rather silent on the subject lately, President Obama previously endorsed the idea of Turkey being admitted to the European Union. The Turks are still pushing hard for admission, but that very possibility is one of the factors which Britain cites as they consider leaving the union themselves. Given his comments during his recent trip across the pond, it seems as if Barack Obama is coming down on the wrong side of the ideological battle here. Pushing the Brits to remain in the union even while urging the admission of Turkey is counterproductive at best. We need to be considering just how badly we need Turkey as an ally given their record under Erdogan’s leadership and how much of a price we’re willing to pay for their continued good will.

Erdogan yelling