How Atatürk's church became an ultra-nationalist base
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
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.