Early in the week, an article appeared towards the back of Section A in the Wall Street Journal. Too bad it wasn’t on the front page, especially in lieu of the current debate over mosques in our country. While a “drop in the bucket,” the news piece reflects that change, when least expected, can happen.
“Turkey Allows Christian Mass At Monastery” spotlights a movement by the Turkish government, which leans towards Islam, to “improve the country’s record on religious tolerance and boost tourism.” While the motive may be mercenary, the hundreds of Christians who attended the 3-hour Virgin Mary Service at Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea region on Sunday, welcome the gesture. ” ‘We came because we think this is our native town,’ said Violetta Popova, a 20-year-old language student and Pontic Greek descendant who lives in Piatagorsk, Russia.” Although Christians have been free to practice their faith, their places of worship have been transformed into mosques, museums or lay in ruins. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave thanks to the government, which kept a low profile in its representation by the town mayor of Macka.
A second service is scheduled September 19 at the 10th century Armenian Aghtamar Church on Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. At one time it was the seat of Armenia’s national church. It remains to be seen if this event comes to pass given the current political atmosphere. A year ago, when the government agreed to the church services, the focus was “on a Democratic Opening policy, aimed at finding nonmilitary means of ending the country’s decades long conflict with militants claiming to represent the country’s ethnic Kurds by improving minority and religious rights. Those have been key demands of the European Union, which Turkey is negotiating to join.”
Unfortunately the Democratic Opening soured with attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party which triggered a backlash that threatens to dominate the politics of the July 2011 elections. Negotiations to open the border between Turkey and Armenia are “in deep freeze.” Turkey’s culture ministry explained that opening the churches was expected to increase religious tourism which would help solve the region’s economic, political and social problems, while improving relations with their neighbors.
Perhaps a leader of the displaced Christians was correct in saying ” ‘No one should fear believers, whether Christians or Muslims. The most dangerous people are non believers,’…”
one step forward…hugmamma.