Top-secret documents reveal Turkey’s surveillance of Christians on dubious allegations

The headquarters of the Secretariat for the National Security Organization (MGK) in Ankara

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) secretly drew up plans to fabricate a threat supposedly posed by Christian missionaries in order to create fear as part of social engineering, confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have shown.

A study of the top-secret documents reveals how the legal activities of Christian faith groups such as Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants in Turkey were presented as national security threats to the sustainability and viability of the Turkish state. It shows how the powerful institution that helps shape policies in Turkey views the European Union as a Christian project and offers nationwide measures for cracking down on Christians in Turkey.

Although the documents identify only 54 Christian missionaries as active in Turkey, 45 of whom are foreign nationals, even that low figure stands in sharp contrast to the threat assessment made by the MGK, which bolsters the view that the top security agency, dominated by neo-nationalists, deliberately exaggerated the threat, if any, and presented what appears to be peaceful, faith-based work as nefarious activities.

The documents confirm that the Turkish state profiled dozens of Christian groups in Turkey and abroad, proposed controversial measures to halt their work and instructed all government agencies including the military, police and intelligence to monitor and thwart their projects.

What is more, the Turkish judge who reviewed the documents and summarized what was devised by the MGK as part of the criminal investigation into suspects who were involved in crafting the secret policy that led to murders and attacks on Christians in Turkey was arbitrarily dismissed and later arrested by the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The criminal case against key suspects who were involved in the illegal operations as part of the MGK plan was crushed by the government, while investigators who exposed these clandestine operations including the murder of Christian missionaries were punished with unlawful dismissals and imprisonment as part of the crackdown on the Gülen movement, the most outspoken opposition group critical of the Erdoğan government.

In the summary of proceedings Judge Süleyman Karaçöl noted two scandalous documents among the dozens that were personally submitted to his office by Emel Bulak, the legal advisor of the MGK, in a sealed envelope on May 16, 2013. One was signed by Gen. Tuncer Kılınç on April 30, 2003 and titled “Legal and Administrative Measures,” and the other was by the next MGK Secretary-General Şükrü Sarıışık on November 17, 2003 and titled “Misyonerlik Faaliyetleri” (Missionary Activities). Both Kılınç and Sarıışık were indicted and convicted of serious charges under the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials but were freed through the intervention of Erdoğan.

 

The record of the examination of top secret MGK documents by the judge, witnessed by clerks and a MGK official:

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In 2013, the MGK was forced to submit the documents after the judge’s ruling, which approved the Istanbul prosecutor’s request as part of criminal investigation No. 2007/972. After prolonged foot dragging the MGK Secretariat had to comply with the judgement, but Bulak asked the court in a letter dated May 15, 2003 to return the top secret documents after their review by the judge, claiming that the documents were deemed to be “state secrets.” No copies were made, but the full content of the documents was put into the record by Judge Karaçöl, witnessed by clerks and signed MGK legal counsellor Bulak, who took the original documents back to the MGK.

The 24-page summary prepared in handwritten notes by Judge Karaçöl after examining the documents exposes how the Turkish state secretly ran surveillance on Christians, both Turkish and non-Turkish, with no reasonable justification, no hint of the commission of a crime and certainly without any evidence that warranted intrusive criminal and administrative probes.

According to the document dated April 30, 2003, a secret meeting was held in the headquarters of the General Staff March 1-7, 2002 with the participation of senior officials from the MGK Secretariat, Foreign Ministry, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the police. The preliminary work was distributed to relevant government ministries and agencies for further study. After the reviews and assessments, the action plan was finally sent to the prime minister’s office on March 12, 2003 for execution.

The assessment indicated that Christian missionary activities have been expanding across the country, exploiting the freedoms in national and international laws, and have reached a level that posed a threat to Turkish national interests. The MGK concluded that Christian activities present a long-term threat to Turkey’s national security and emphasized that Turkey cannot stand idly by while such activities pose serious challenges for Turkey. It said the new legislation that was proposed to comply with the European Union acquis as part of Turkish membership talks could create problems for Turkey. As a result, it proposed measures to thwart such activities. The 12-page document was later sent to the relevant government agencies by Gen. Kılınç, a neo-nationalist and racist figure.

 

The MGK letter that demands the return of secret documents after the examination by the judge:

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The first chapter included in this document covered Christian prayer halls, churches and other places of worship. Under this heading, measure No. 1 proposed a series of legal and administrative actions in order to prevent Christians from opening and running places of worship in Turkey. It sought stringent approval and licensing procedures and the addition of new clauses on zoning and property registration mechanisms to make opening Christian places of worship as difficult as possible.

The MGK also suggested similar measures for schools run by foreigners in Turkey or for schools that were planned to be established in the future. It said no prayer halls can be allowed in such schools, either.

The second chapter covered measures to counter what the MGK called “Missionary Psychological Operations.” Under this heading, the MGK Secretariat suggested the prevention of Christian proselytizing efforts in Turkish media such as TV, radio, book distribution, newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers and audio and video materials. It asked for specific provisions in the legislation that regulates the print and broadcast media with a view of torpedoing Christian groups’ efforts to disseminate information among the Turkish populace.

The MGK also described the aid, charity and rescue work conducted by Christian groups during emergency situations such as natural disasters as a facade and asked the government to prevent such campaigns from taking place. Incoming foreign aid must be distributed by Turkey’s Red Crescent (Kizilay) and other approved Turkish charity foundations. The proposed actions include the banning and shutting down summer camps, courses and programs that cater to the poor, orphaned and unemployed in Turkey.

 

Judge Süleyman Karaçöl

It instructed both the Ministry of Education and the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) to publish materials and develop curricula that explain the nefarious activities of Christians in Turkey. The plan also suggested the naming and shaming of people who coordinate Christian programs in the Turkish media. Measure No. 6 covered incentives for Turks who have doubts about their religion and as such are susceptible to missionary work.

The third section in the MGK plan, which discusses the crackdown on the financial resources of Christian groups, proposes four measures. One is to cut off the foreign funding that flows to Turkish municipalities under programs such as the restoration of churches and infrastructure development in the cities. It said such funding must be approved by governors under the control of the central government. The second measure seeks a ban on the sale of real estate to foreigners in historic and touristic places, especially in the east and southeast of Turkey. Another measure floated in this section included prevention of visits by foreign scientists, researchers, archeologists and media professionals. The last measure envisaged by the MGK in this section involved the prevention of missionary activities on the Internet and requested legal and administrative measures to implement the action plan.

 

The judge sent the summary of the MGK documents to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office for inclusion in the criminal investigation:

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The second key document registered by Judge Karaçöl that was signed by MGK Secretary-General Sarıışık on November 17, 2003 has a two page index which detailed missionary activities in Turkey. It discusses provinces in which they have concentrated their efforts, a list of Christian groups involved in missionary work and their numbers, countermeasures, international conventions, assessment and conclusion.

In the document the MGK claimed that missionary activities were cloaked by interfaith dialogue activities and social justice campaigns in order to exploit the social and economic problems of the poor. It also lamented that the missionary work had achieved official status in international organizations and said the UN has 16 Christian organizations in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) program, UNESCO has 16, UNICEF seven, FAO eight and WHO has one.

Commenting on the structure of the missionary work, the MGK documents maintained that Christian groups try to exploit divisions and fissures in the society. On foreign schools that were established by Christians in Ottoman lands, the MGK assessed that they pursued political activities under the guise of educational schemes and helped the Ottoman Empire collapse. It named four American colleges – Harput College, Merzifon American College, Robert College and Bitlis American College — in this category. It concluded that such missionary-run schools have been the most effective weapon in tearing apart the society and are still in use as of the present day.

 

The 24-page summary of the top secret MGK documents, prepared and signed by Judge Karaçöl. Use the arrow keys to scroll through the pages:

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The secret documents listed the groups targeted by Christian missionaries as refugees, exiles, the poor, minorities, those with Christian roots and victims of war, terrorism and natural disasters. It noted that missionaries use the following organizations and institutions as cover for their work: national and international charity groups, educational institutions, language study centers, tourism bureaus, embassies and consulates, churches and monasteries, and front and real business firms.

According to the MGK, the Christian groups adopt “taqiya” (concealing) tactics in Turkey while they promote their work and hide their true identities and goals. It goes into detail, explaining that Christians use Muslims’ narratives, highlight principles that are not in conflict with Islam, adopt Turkish culture and dress code, avoid behavior that may draw reactions from locals and use Turkish nationals in missions. Among the areas used by Christian to advance their cause are development aid, freedom campaigns, environmental programs, family planning, assistance to peace-oriented organizations, media, education and science.

Turkey’s top security agency also claimed that Christians selected Kurds, Alevis and minorities as well as conservative groups, women, students, and youth among Turks as targets.

In a shocking description, the MGK describes the European Union as an entity that wants to extend its borders from the Atlantic to the Urals and therefore wants to use Turkey, a “biblical land,” as a gateway to Central Asia. It claims that Christian Europe wants to revitalize Byzantine Empire and resurrect the sacred lands in Anatolia where many Christian symbols and saints were historically located.

The document shows the MGK mapped out the activities of Christian groups in Turkey and put surveillance on their members in various provinces. It mentions Catholic churches in the Eastern Black Sea region in Turkey’s northeast, and highlights the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows), a Catholic church located in the city of Samsun, as the axis of missionary activities in the northeast region. The church dates back to 1846. The document notes that the church has intensified its activities targeting locals in recent years.

Protestant groups were also monitored according to information included in the MGK documents, which focused on two main groups as proselyting networks. One is the Kurtuluş (Salvation) Church, located in Ankara and run mainly by US nationals of Chinese and Korean origin, it stated. The MGK added that the Salvation Church set up fronts and dispatched representatives to other provinces, where they trained locals to take over the missionary work once they leave. It also noted that some members of the Salvation Church work as teachers in English language schools.

 

Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, who served at the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon, was shot to death on Feb. 5, 2006.

 

The other group cited in the MGK document is the Presbyterian church in Istanbul. It sounded alarm bells that the church has been active in Trabzon and Rize provinces in Turkey’s northeast. The Karats Protestant Church in Izmir was also named in another part of the document

Stating that the Christian groups have put special focus on their work in Turkey’s southeast, the MGK named three publishing houses as examples: the International Book House in Gaziantep province, the Kurtuluş Miras Publishing House in Hatay and the Işık Bookstore in Diyarbakır. It underlined that foreign tourists buy books and pamphlets from such publishing houses and bookstores and distribute them to locals in the eastern and southeastern part of Turkey.

In two annexed documents that were stamped “secret,” the MGK identified Christian organizations and entities in Turkey that posed a security threat. In the publishing house and bookstore category, the following organizations were listed: Kucak Yayınevi, which publishes children’s books, runs summer camps and organizes seminars; Müjde Yayıncılık, which distributes bibles; Kitab-ı Mukaddes Şirketi, which was financed by the UK and US and publishes and distributes Christian books; and Yeni Yaşam Yayınları, Kaya Basım Yayım Dağıtım Ticaret Limited Şirketi, Lütuf Yayıncılık Ticaret Limited Şirketi, Uluslararası Kitabevi, İyi Yayıncılık, Söz Kitabevi, Sevinç Kırtasiye, Gape Basın Yayın Dağıtım Limited Şirketi, Sevgi Yayıncılık Pazarlama Dağıtım Limited Şirketi, Open Door Bookstore, Karadeniz Mozayik ve Ogni Kültür ve Pontus Haftası Kutlamaları Dergisi, International Book House, Kurtuluş Miras Yayınevi, Işık Kitabevi and Güçlü Yayıncılık.

In the media field, the following entities were profiled by the MGK: Viva TV, Müjde Net TV, Müjde FM Radio, Radyo Light FM, Radyo Mega FM, Özgur Radyo, Radyo Kumru and Radyo Pontus FM.

 

Page from the summary that shows the international Christian organizations targeted by Turkey’s National Security Council: 

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The foundations that were profiled include Sağlık Eğitim Vakfı, which runs schools in Istanbul, Izmir and Tarsus. It owns an American hospital in Gaziantep, a publishing house and Internet site. It offers scholarships to university students, the documents said. Türkiye Korunmaya Muhtaç Çocuklar Vakfı, which runs the SOS Children’s Villages in Turkey’s Istanbul and Izmir provinces; Kutsal Kitapları Araştırma Derneği (Holy Books Research Association); and Türkiye Protestant Kiliseleri Birliği were also named.

Several tourist agencies and businesses made it into the list as well, including Smyrna Philadelphia Turism ve Seyahat Acentası, Polykari Smyrna Travel Turizm Şirketi, Smyrna Tatil Köyü ve Turizm Hizmetleri Limited Şirketi, Müjde Pansiyon, Apostolic Adventures APD Turizm Şirketi, Avralya Dinlenme Evi, Gloria Turizm Limited Şirketi, Hu-Net Limited Şirketi, Gloria Dis Ticaret Limited Şirketi and Dunya Ortaklari Dis Ticaret Limited Şirketi.

In Annex B, which listed foreign organizations that are active in Turkey, the MGK targeted the following groups: The Orthodox Youth Movement, the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France; Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York; the World Alliance of YMCAs, Paris; Young Women Christian Unions, Paris; Young Men’s Christian Association, UK; Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), UK; 2000 and Beyond Movement, UK; Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board, US; Wycliffe Bible Translators, US; Assemblies of God, US; Campus Crusade for Christ International, US; United Church Board for World Ministries, UK; Scripture Union (SU), UK; the Middle East Council of Churches, Lebanon; and the Pro Oriente Foundation in Austria.

 

On April 18, 2007 three Christian missionaries were brutally murdered at Zirve Publishing House, which published bibles.

 

The actions and policies of the Erdoğan government following the issuance of the MGK policy guidelines show that the suggestions were implemented. The Religious Affairs Directorate ordered sermons railing against Christian missionary work in tens of thousands of mosques across Turkey. An anti-Christian campaign was launched in the Turkish media, and conferences were organized to advance the campaign of fear against Christians. As a result, three missionaries including German national Tilmann Ekkehart Geske were brutally murdered by a group of young men who claimed to have acted on religious motives, in Malatya province at the Zirve Publishing House offices where they worked, on April 18, 2007. All the suspects except for one were released pending trial in 2014 when the prosecutors and judges involved in the case were abruptly removed by the government-controlled judicial council.

The investigation revealed that Gen. Hurşit Tolon, convicted in the Ergenekon trial, frequently visited Malatya prior to the murder and gave anti-missionary briefings and speeches. The local mufti of Malatya assisted in work carried out as part of the general’s anti-missionary crusade, and local television stations ran racist and hateful broadcasts hostile to missionaries. Seven people, including five active duty military officers, were arrested in the Zirve investigation based on the testimony of a witness employed at the Turkey National Strategy and Mobility Department (TUSHAD), a secret unit in the Turkish military.

Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, who served at the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon, was shot to death on Feb. 5, 2006. At the time, 16-year-old suspect Oguzhan Akdin was captured and received an 18-year prison sentence. But the real perpetrators were never found. Akdin was released after serving only a partial sentence as a result of the Erdoğan government’s amnesty in 2016. Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist, was assassinated on January 19, 2007. Government officials in the security and intelligence branches of the Erdoğan government were implicated in the murder.

The MGK decisions were the first stones laid on the road that led to the murder of Father Santoro as well as Dink and the Christian missionaries in Malatya.

In the meantime, Judge Karaçöl, who exposed the secret MGK documents on Christians, was disbarred in May 2015 and arrested in September of the same year. Karaçöl was the judge who issued search and detention warrants in a corruption probe that went public on Dec. 25, 2013 for suspects including Saudi national Yasin al-Qadi, once listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the US Treasury and the United Nations Sanction Committee. The warrants were not executed after Erdoğan intervened on behalf of al-Qadi, whom he described as a family friend.

 

Turkish-Armenian journalist Dink, editor-in-chief of the Agos weekly, was killed in 2007 in front of the Agos headquarters in İstanbul.

 

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