Day 9: Entering rooms in the House of Islam — Turkey
By Gary Fallesen
, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Sign of the times: burned-out vehicles litter a trail on Mount Ararat. (Photos by Gary Fallesen, Mission: Ararat 2014)
The story goes: the government started building a road up the lower slopes of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey until it was blocked by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK, long branded a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States, allegedly set construction vehicles on fire to stop the road work.
The burned-out vehicles still sit on the mountainside. Government propaganda (Turkey has consistently tried to paint the Kurds as a problem) or simply consistent with Turkish’s relations in this part of the country?
“The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was bent on melding his fractious array of peoples into a single, homogeneous state,” Robert F. Worth wrote in “Behind the Barricades of Turkey’s Hidden War,” a May 24 story in The New York Times Magazine
“Starting under his rule in 1923, the Kurds, whose presence in the area goes back well over a thousand years, were rebranded ‘mountain Turks,’ their language and customs suppressed. Kurdish schools, organizations and publications were forbidden; even the words ‘Kurd’ and ‘Kurdistan’ were prohibited. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled to western Turkey and Europe, and the southeast became a neglected backwater.”
At least the Kurds did not meet the same fate as the Christian Armenians under Ottoman rule in 1915, when as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Or the Assyrians and Ottoman Greeks, other Christian groups massacred by the Muslim Ottoman between 1913 and 1922. In fact, the Kurds helped the Turks carry out some of those atrocities.
But the promise of a homeland (Kurdistan) pledged in the post-World War I Treaty of Sevres (1920) never came to fruition and Ataturk’s discrimination of a people soon followed. Kurdish mistreatment went on for decade after decade until the PKK formed in 1984 and went to war with the Turkish government. Tens of thousands on both sides died before a cease-fire was declared in 2013. After that the Turkish military withdrew from some Kurdish areas in the southeast.
We witnessed the changing landscape where the Kurds dwell as we carried out missions to Mount Ararat from 2010 to 2015.
In an E-Update, “Praying for friends in war-torn Turkey,” sent April 28 to those on our “ONE Team” (members actively involved with C4C through our Prayer Team, regular giving, and/or GO-ing on mission), I shared:
I will always remember celebrating with the Aslan family in the shadow of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey as election results were announced on June 7, 2015. The pro-Kurdish HDP (or Peoples’ Democratic Party) made history as Kurds were elected to Turkey’s parliament.Today
We were on Mission: Ararat 2015 and visiting the homes of friends we have made on the mountain in recent years. The Kurdish people, who normally move their herds of sheep up the slopes of Ararat to graze from June to September, were required to stay in their winter homes until after the election.
That’s where we were when Turkey’s ruling party, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, lost its parliamentary majority and the country’s large Kurdish minority won a voice in government for the first time.
Our team flashed the Kurdish “V” sign and donned Kurdish scarves as the people we love celebrated joyously.
That joy has turned to sorrow.
Our Turkish friends tell us Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Tunceli, Mardin and Cizre are “the main places where there are operations against the PKK.” That means, those are the main places where fighting has destroyed shopping, businesses, jobs, and lives.
The war has interrupted our ministry to the Kurdish people in and near Mount Ararat. Our Evangelic Expedition to Turkey in 2016 was cancelled. We try to stay in touch with friends and pray. But the church we finally connected with in the southeast on our fourth trip to Turkey probably has gone underground. There is no news.
Turkey, a country of more than 76 million before the steady influx of migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war and ensuing battle with ISIS, is 96.5 percent Muslim. Only 0.4 percent professes to be Christian, according to the Joshua Project.
Kurdish people account for about 14 million of the population. More than 9 in 10 are Muslim, but many are only nominal believers. Only 0.1 percent of Kurds in Turkey are Christ followers, which makes these people groups (Kurmanji and Turkish-speaking Kurds) unreached people.
Kurdish shepherds sheering sheep on Mount Ararat.
“Turkey has no Kurdish problem, but a terror problem,” Erdogan is quoted by Worth in his New York Times Magazine
story. “No one should try to palm it off on us as a Kurdish problem.”
Erdogan called for members of parliament to be stripped of immunity earlier this year, allowing for HDP leaders to be prosecuted and jailed as terrorists. In May, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, always considered a flunky for Erdogan, was forced out of office after what Worth called “gestures of difference with Erdogan, including on the Kurdish issue; he had hinted at a return to peace talks.”
Civil rights issues and an end to freedoms, including that of the press, have increased this year.
“The Turkish government has pledged to rebuild the southeast and to make peace with the Kurds in its own way,” Worth wrote. “So far, that effort does not look promising.”
Pray for peace in Turkey and for the church to emerge. Pray for doors to reopen to this room in the House of Islam so we may again try to reach the unreached. Pray that the land where the Apostle Paul planted the early church and where Christianity was the way until Islam rose will again turn to Jesus.
CLICK HERE to watch the C4C Turkey Prayer video and read Project Prayer: Turkey.