A vandalism attack last week in Turkey’s south-eastern city of Malatya damaged a small Turkish Protestant church. The assault came just two days after the targeting of 13 minority Alevi families in a nearby neighbourhood.
Rising sectarian tensions over the two incidents quickly prompted local police investigations, followed by a concerned visit by an opposition member of the Turkish Parliament to meet church members as well as local Alevis, a large percentage of Turkish citizens who follow a heterodox form of Islam.
In the new church attack, a lone suspect heaved a brick through the display window of Malatya’s Kurtulus (Salvation) Church shortly before midnight on 24 November and then fled the scene on foot.
But with the incident captured on security camera footage, local police arrested the assailant the following day, identifying him to the Turkish press only by his initials, O.G.
Just two days before, in the early hours of 22 November, unknown suspects had painted huge red “X” marks on the front doors of 13 homes of Alevi families in the nearby Cemal Gursel neighbourhood of Malatya.
Similar targeting of Alevi homes and properties in Malatya had occurred during the chaos surrounding the attempted military coup in July 2016. For the Kurtulus Church’s congregation, this was a flashback as well to the night of the failed coup, when unidentified assailants had broken glass panels in the church’s door.
“Those who are repeating these activities here, one after another, must answer before the courts,” Republican People’s Party parliamentarian Veli Agbaba told the press. “If they remain unpunished, these kinds of attacks will continue,” the opposition lawmaker warned.
After examining the damage on the night of the attack, church representatives posted this message on the broken glass, visible to all the passers-by: “‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ – Jesus Christ.”
“This is a chance for our church to live out our faith, to respond with love and forgiveness,” American pastor Tim Stone told World Watch Monitor. “This is how we act on Jesus’ words, not just say them.”
(According to a 28 November article in Cumhuriyet newspaper, Malatya security officials revealed that the assailant, O.G., was set free by the local criminal court after a health report was attached to the case, indicating that the 33-year-old man has a bipolar condition.)
Located on Ismet Pasa Boulevard in central Malatya, the Malatya branch of the Kurtulus Church Association averages 40 in attendance during Sunday worship services.
Malatya became notorious 10 years ago as the site of the “Malatya massacre,” in which two Turkish converts to Christianity and a German Christian worker were tortured and killed with knives in the offices of the Zirve Christian publishing house on 18 April, 2007.
After nearly 10 years of trial proceedings, the five young Turkish killers caught at the murder scene were convicted in September 2016 and sentenced to 39 years in prison. They had claimed they were trying to stop the “harmful activities” of Christian missionaries who they claimed were trying to destroy Turkey and the honour of Islam.