Tuesday September 24, 2019

Jews and Christians in Turkey are becoming increasingly fearful because of Islamic extremism

False reports of minority having ties with the coup are being circulated and so Christians and Jews are being targeted.

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Christians, Jews are becoming fearful because of growing extremism. Image Courtesy: Pixabay
  • Christian and Jews represent about two-tenths of one percent of Turkey’s mostly Muslim population of 79 million
  • People are tagging religious minorities as coup plotters
  • The spread of Islamic State (IS) terror in Turkey in recent months has shaken Christians and Jews

September 28, 2016: Threatened by Islamic extremism, Christian and Jewish groups in Turkey are growing more fearful amid increasing terror attacks and the government’s state of emergency following a failed coup attempt, representatives of the minority communities told VOA.

Christian and Jews represent about two-tenths of one percent of Turkey’s mostly Muslim population of 79 million.But pro-government media outlets, as well as some government officials, have accused them of playing a role in the July coup attempt and have stepped up the rhetoric against Christians and Jews.

At a “Democracy and Martyrs” rally in August, a pro-government, million-strong anti-coup demonstration in Istanbul, three of the speakers linked religious minorities to coup plotters, calling them “seeds of Byzantium, “crusaders,” and a “flock of infidels.”

Christian and Jewish leaders, some of whom denounced the coup attempt, were in attendance at the rally in an attempt to show solidarity with the government. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since the coup attempt and tens of thousands of Turks have been jailed for investigations.

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Scapegoats

Turkish human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz told VOA pro-government media have “embraced an alarming narrative of scapegoating Turkey’s religious minorities and connecting the coup plot to them.”

“Particularly pro-government media outlets have taken an anti-U.S. and anti-EU attitude, which I can call a xenophobic attitude, in which they attempt to demonize the West and accuse it of the coup attempt,” he said. “And this narrative targets and harms non-Muslims in Turkey.”

Scholar Rifat Bali, who has written several books on Turkish Jews, says that even though the report of minority ties to the coup have no foundation, Christians and Jews are being targeted.

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“The nonsensical, so-called news reports that claim that some religious minorities in Turkey are behind the coup attempt are not surprising,” he said. “They are actually quite expected. In an environment where conspiracy theories are commonplace and prevalent, looking for foreigners behind everything becomes normal.”

Historic threats

Christians and Jews, who have been living in parts of what is now Turkey for centuries, have been exposed to violent attacks in Turkey’s history. The 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom in eastern Thrace, and the 1955 anti-Christian pogrom in Istanbul forced tens of thousands of non-Muslims to flee Turkey.

The spread of Islamic State (IS) terror in Turkey in recent months has shaken Christians and Jews.According to news reports, IS cell members have plotted terrors attacks on churches and synagogues in Turkey. IS sees Christianity and Judaism as an enemy to its radical Muslim ideology.

Foreigners, including European Christians and Israeli Jews, have died in terror attacks in Turkey linked to IS.Threats against Christians and churches on social media by Islamist extremists in Turkey have intensified.

“Some people have sent death threats to the mobile phones of 15 pastors,” said Umut Sahin, the secretary-general of the Union of Protestant Churches, an umbrella organization for Protestant denominations in Turkey.

“They used the same terms and arguments as IS in their text messages,” said Sahin, a pastor in Izmir. “They sent the pastor’s propaganda videos of IS.”There are about 10,000 Protestant Christians in Turkey.

Protestant church leader Ihsan Ozbek said some churches have canceled Sunday services because of fears of an IS attack.“This has created deep fear and panic in our community,” he said of continuing terror from IS.

Creating more refugees

Some Turkish Assyrian Christians, whose brethren in Syria have faced killings and kidnappings at the hands of IS, are finding safety abroad.

“The number of Assyrians immigrating to Western countries is also on the rise,” said Erkan Metin, an Assyrian human rights lawyer in Turkey. “Some have left Turkey and many others are preparing for that.”There are about 25,000 Assyrians in Turkey who live mostly in the southeast.

“Many Assyrians from Turkey are also citizens of Western countries,” said Tuma Celik, the Turkey representative of the European Syriac Union (ESU) and the editor-in-chief of the Assyrian monthly newspaper, Sabro.

“Those Assyrians used to spend part of the year in Turkey,” he said. “But as threats of IS are on the rise and the purges of the government are getting increasingly commonplace and violent, many of them have not come to Turkey this year.”But most of Turkey’s 18,000 Jews, who live mainly in Istanbul, are quietly staying put.

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Synagogues have taken tight security measures. British media reports, citing intelligence officials in Turkey, reported in the spring that IS was plotting attacks on Jewish institutions in Turkey.

“There is a continued war environment both inside and outside of Turkey,” said Isil Demirel, an anthropologist from Turkey who writes for the online newspaper Avlaremoz, which covers Jewish-related topics.“And the fact that the war is perpetrated by a group called the ‘Islamic State’ in the name of religion further intensifies the fears and concerns of people about their lives and future,” he said.

Two Turkish synagogues were bombed in 2003 by Islamist terrorists.“So the Jews in Turkey have learned required lessons from these attacks and are doing their best to take precautions to prevent potential ones,” Rifat Bali, a prominent Jewish scholar based in Istanbul, told VOA.

-(VOA)

– prepared by Anubhuti Gupta of Newsgram. Twitter: @anuB_11

Next Story

English-speaking ISIS Supporters Exploit Messaging App

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up

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The Telegram logo is seen on a screen of a smartphone in this illustration, April 13, 2018. VOA

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service.

The report, “Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram,” released Thursday by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, looked at 636 pro-Islamic State channels and groups in the 16 months from June 2017 through October 2018.

It found that even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

“These are supporters that like to fight uphill battles,” report co-author Bennet Clifford told VOA. “What supporters are trying to do when they’re engaging with this conversation is attempt to shift the narrative away from loss and provide justifications for it.”

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – An Islamic State flag is seen in this photo illustration. VOA

At the same time, these English-speaking supporters sought to amplify their beliefs, supplementing official IS propaganda with user-generated content while also increasing the distribution of instructional material on how to carry out attacks.

“I think it’s part of an attempt in some cases to spin the narrative their way,” Clifford added.

Attraction of Telegram

IS supporters first started flocking to Telegram, an instant messaging service that promises speed and encryption for private communications, in 2015 as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown aimed at Islamic State’s often violent and gory propaganda.

Since then, IS has been hooked by Telegram’s promise that it will not disclose user data to government officials and by the service’s ability to let supporters organize and share large files, including video.

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“No other platforms appear to have developed the same balance of features, user-friendliness, and basic security that could warrant a new switch,” the report said.

That ease of use has long worried counterterrorism officials, who have watched as IS has used the online ecosystem to help plan and carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris, attacks on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 and the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just weeks later.

English-speaking facilitators

In those cases, the attackers appear to have been given instructions from IS officials in Syria and Iraq. But Telegram has given rise to several key English-speaking facilitators who have been operating on the periphery.

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – Karen Aizha Hamidon, who allegedly worked to encourage several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East, is surrounded by reporters after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 3, 2017. VOA

One of them, according to Clifford and co-author Helen Powell, was 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, who helped mobilize sympathizers from the United States to Singapore to join the terror group or its affiliates.

Hamidon, who was arrested by Philippine authorities in October 2017, has also been linked to efforts to establish an IS province in India.

Another key player, 34-year-old Ashraf al-Safoo, took a different approach before being arrested last October by the FBI in Chicago.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, al-Safoo was a key member of the Khattab Media Foundation, which used hacked social media accounts on platforms like Twitter to disseminate IS propaganda.

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“Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office,” the Justice Department said in a statement using a different acronym for the militant group.

While both Hamidon and al-Safoo are now in custody, showing the ability of law enforcement to penetrate their Telegram operations, others are likely to replace them because of the ongoing need of Islamic State’s English-speaking supporters to communicate and find larger audiences.

“While there are a number of disadvantages for Islamic State supporters in the use of Telegram from a security perspective they’ll continue to do it because their balance of outreach and operational security,” Clifford said. “There’s not another alternative at this point in time.” (VOA)