Church officials in eastern Turkey granted police protection over murder threat

Protective measures have been taken for the officials of a Protestant church association in eastern Turkey after they were threatened with murder for being “missionaries,” Turkish Minute reported.

The administrators of the Association of Kurtuluş Churches Foundation in Malatya are concerned about becoming the victims of a massacre similar to one that took place in the city in 2007.

Three missionaries affiliated with the Kurtuluş Churches — German national Tillman Geske and two Turks, Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel — were tied up and tortured before their throats were slit at the Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher in Malatya, on April 18, 2007.

Vedat Serin, the Malatya representative of the Association of Kurtuluş Churches, recently filed a complaint at the city’s prosecutor’s office saying that a suspect, identified only by the initials T.A., went to the association building in the city and told them that he and some others were ordered to “kill missionaries” including Serin, the association’s Ankara president İhsan Özbek and Timothy Wesley Stonen, who previously lived in Malatya.

Serin quoted T.A. as saying that the order came from figures who had been affiliated with the former JİTEM, the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism Unit, who went to the Grey Wolves (Ülkü Ocakları), a Turkish ultranationalist group whose activities were banned in France in November 2020 for hate speech and political violence, about the order.

The now-defunct JİTEM was accused of involvement in the torture, disappearance and execution of Kurdish politicians and businesspeople during the 1990s, a period of bloody conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants.

The Grey Wolves, which is regarded as the militant wing of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) –- allied with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan –- caused havoc on the streets of Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s, when its members frequently clashed with leftist activists.

Serin also said in the complaint that the same individuals had provided guns to T.A. and others to carry out their orders but that they backed off after the father of Emre Günaydın, leader of the group that carried out the murders at the Zirve Publishing House in 2007, told them not to do it, saying his son had also been “deceived” by the same groups.

The complaint, filed on Sept. 5, also included the photos of individuals from the relevant groups with weapons that were previously shared on social media, according to T24.

Following the complaint, the Malatya Governor’s Office released a statement saying that T.A. had been detained and sent to court for arrest but was released under judicial supervision, while protective measures were taken for the administrators of the Kurtuluş Church in Malatya.

Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım received three consecutive aggravated life sentences each after they delivered their final defense in the years-long trial for the massacre at the Zirve Publishing House.

After seven years in a high-security prison, the five suspects were released into house arrest in March 2014, when they were fitted with electronic tracking devices

The release of the suspects was made possible under a new law passed by the Turkish Parliament in February 2014 according to which the limit of time spent in detention for suspects on trial who have not yet been convicted was lowered to five years.

Although the five young men, aged 19 and 20 at the time of the killings, confessed to the murders and were arrested for the crime, authorities have continued to investigate the case, which is believed by many to be an act of the “deep state” rather than a group of independent fanatics.

The deep state was alleged to be a group of anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, including high-level figures from the Turkish military, security agencies, judiciary and mafia.

The murders at the time fuelled fear among Turkey’s small Christian minority and raised concern over rising nationalism and hostility toward non-Muslims in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country seeking EU membership.

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