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How Atatürk's church became an ultra-nationalist base

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=95373 How Atatürk s church became an ultra-nationalist base Saturday, February 2, 2008 Owing its
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2008

      How Atatürk's church became an ultra-nationalist base
      Saturday, February 2, 2008

      Owing its genesis and resources to the Turkish
      state, the mini-size but super-rich Turkish
      Orthodox Church has become a devotee of the most
      radical version of its founding ideology
      Mustafa Akyol

      ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

      Any quick history of Turkey's founder, Mustafa
      Kemal Atatürk, will surely include the
      institutions he created, from I.s, Bank to Ankara
      University to the ideology that bears his name.
      But who knew the story of the little church that
      he created until it found itself entangled in the
      alleged ultra-nationalist criminal gang called "Ergenekon"?

      This group of about three dozen nationalist
      figures, including a former general and a
      colonel, and one of Turkey's most active lawyers
      who sued many liberal intellectuals for
      "insulting Turkishness," has been making
      headlines in Turkey in the past few weeks. The
      groups' members were arrested in a midnight raid
      and several of them are still under arrest. One
      name among them that looked a bit unusual in the
      first sight was a middle-aged woman named Sevgi
      Erenerol who claims the title of "public
      relations representative of the Turkish Orthodox Church."

      A closed box:

      This curious church is located in one of the
      narrow streets of Karaköy, one of Istanbul's
      busiest and oldest districts. But unlike the
      other houses of worship Istanbul, in which you
      can go, see, and join the mass, this one is
      peculiarly unwelcoming. When you walk into the
      garden, solemn men warn you not to take pictures,
      and say there is "no one to answer questions."

      "This place is really a closed box, brother,"
      says Hüseyin Karasimsek, who works in a small
      manufacturing outfit right across the street.
      "I've been here five years and haven't felt
      comfortable enough to go in and ask for a glass
      of water." In his view there is not much worship
      going on inside. "I have never heard any music or
      hymns here; just some guys come in and nobody talks much."

      As the Ergenekon inquiry unfolds, it appears
      that the church might not only be linked to
      Ergenekon, but could actually be its very
      base. According to the prosecutor, the church
      has been "the headquarters and the financial hub"
      of the covert gang. Mrs. Erenerol and her 12
      friends are now on trial and under arrest by an
      Istanbul court for "establishing an organization
      to provoke public unrest" and preparing the way for a military coup.

      By state, for the state:

      The story goes back to Turkey's War of
      Liberation, when Turks and Greeks were at war. At
      the time, the traditional Greek Orthodox
      Patriarchate in Istanbul, which to date calls
      itself "Ecumenical Patriarchate," looked as if it
      was content with the occupation of Anatolia by
      Greek forces. The ecumenical patriarchate debate
      is a seperate story in itself. Some Orthodox
      Christians in Anatolia were rather pro-Turkish
      and one among them, Pavlos Karahisarithis,
      established the "Autocephalous (Independent)
      Orthodox Patriarchate of Anatolia" in 1921 in
      Kayseri, to support the Turkish national
      struggle. General Mustafa Kemal, unsurprisingly,
      liked this unorthodox orthodoxy, and after
      winning the war, he favored them over the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

      In 1924 Karahisarithis, who later changed his
      name into Zeki Erenerol, called a Turkish
      ecclesial congress that elected him "Papa
      (Patriarch) Eftim". He and his family members
      were exempted from the population exchange
      between Turkey and Greece and were given official
      support — which included valuable real estate in Istanbul.

      When Zeki Erenerol died in 1962, the
      "Patriarchate" passed to his son Turgut Erenerol,
      or ?Papa Eftim II.? Then it passed to Papa
      Eftim's other son and grandson, Selçuk Erenerol
      and Pas,a Ümit Erenerol, or "Papa Eftim III" and
      "Papa IV." Sevgi Erenerol, or Mrs. Ergenekon, is
      the daughter of Papa Eftim III and the sister of
      the current papa. The church remains unrecognized
      by all Christians except as its own members,
      which, according to estimates, consist only of a few dozen people.

      Recently daily Hürriyet called it "the church
      with no congregation but lots of finances."
      Actually some consider the whole affair to be
      some sort of family business. One of the
      employees of the beer hall across the street from
      the church supports the idea that the tiny
      institution is super rich. "They own about three
      hundred shops in this neighborhood," he says,
      "including mine, so don't use my name."

      According to Hadi Uluengin, columnist for
      daily Hürriyet, as "a temple with no believers"
      the Turkish Orthodox Church is "an unrivalled
      absurdity in the world." In his column Uluengin
      recently recalled how "Papa Eftim" was seen by
      traditional Greek Orthodox followers in his
      childhood, in the 1950s. "When the 'Patriarch'
      was passing by the restaurant of Ilya Day'," he
      wrote, "the Orthodox owner would murmur, "Ah, he
      is going to collect monthly rents again'.?

      No king but the Caesar:

      What makes the church more interesting is its
      politics. Its public relations representative,
      Mrs. Erenerol, used to make news in recent years
      with her furious remarks on the "conspiracies"
      cooked up against Turkey. She was especially
      abhorrent of her co-religionists. "Missionary
      activities in Turkey are aiming at more than
      religious goals and they pose a threat to
      national security," she said in 2005 at a
      conference held by Turkish Education Workers'
      Union (Türk Eg(itim-Sen). "The ulterior motives
      behind missionary activities are to seize our
      country," she argued, feeding the very paranoia
      that would lead to the killing of Priest Santoro
      in Trabzon and three missionaries in Malatya.

      Mrs. Erenorol also made a name for herself by
      writing for the marginal magazine "Turkish Left,"
      which promotes a unique combination of Kemalist
      secularism and a fierce Turkish racism with strong anti-Kurdish tones.

      On almost all political issues, Mrs. Erenerol
      sounds like the most rigid Kemalists. Owing its
      genesis and resources to the Turkish state, her
      church apparently has become a devotee of the
      most radical version of its founding ideology.

      Perhaps the symbolism on the front wall of the
      church is meaningful. Above the small sized
      cross, lies a huge poster of Atatürk superimposed
      on the red and white Turkish flag. In the room
      beneath, there is another poster of Atatürk with
      a controversial quote: "When the homeland is in
      question, everything else is trivial." This
      slogan, attributed to the Great Leader, has
      recently become the battle cry of
      ultra-nationalists, who say that Turkey is in
      danger, and thus all other values, such as
      democracy, human rights and freedoms are secondary.
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