A short time ago, Sveti Stefan Church on the shore of Istanbul's Golden Horn, which is known as a pearl of Istanbul but had long been neglected and polluted by factory waste only to be restored quickly after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994, has reopened for worship.
The church was closed to worship for seven years of thorough restoration. Sveti Stefan Church is the only prefabricated, portable church mainly made of iron in the world. Since being built very quickly 120 years ago, the church has served as a house of worship for the Bulgarian Orthodox community in Istanbul.
The demanding restoration was carried out by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in association with Bulgarian experts and under the auspices of Erdoğan, of course. Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and various religious leaders attended the opening ceremony.
The church underwent an initial restoration during Erdoğan's term as Istanbul mayor, and when a more comprehensive restoration became necessary later, a major restoration process began in 2011 at the order of Erdoğan again. The latest restoration cost TL 16 million ($4.2 million).
That the opening ceremony coincided with Orthodox Christmas was cause for great joy.
I would like to point out the following part of Erdoğan's speech at the ceremony:
"Painful memories, experienced in certain periods in history, should not overshadow our much longer and deep-rooted experience of coexistence. That's why we have an understanding of unity in plurality, which demonstrates our approach toward all faiths and thoughts. With this understanding, we have been restoring houses of worship of our citizens following different faiths across our country. Recently, 14 houses of worship, including the Grand Synagogue in Edirne, Hagia Nicola Church in Gökçeada, the Syriac Catholic Church in İskenderun, the Armenian Protestant Church in Diyarbakır, the Nizip Fevkani Church in Gaziantep, the Taxiarchis Church in Ayvalık, the Hagia Yorgi Church in Istanbul's Edirnekapı, have been restored. The Iron church is the final example of our efforts. We will continue to restore houses of worship such as synagogues, chapels and churches. We do not separate freedom of worship in the Iron church from the freedom of worship in Muradiye Mosque in Plovdiv."
As Erdoğan remarked, there is a very deep-rooted culture of coexistence within the history, codes and culture of both the Republic of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. As compared to Europe, which had paid a heavy price due to internecine sectarian and ethnic conflicts and experienced genocides, there has been inherent pluralism in Turkey. Perhaps for this very reason, Turkey is a country of immigrants. Throughout its history, Turkey – like the Ottoman Empire – has embraced not only the 3.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees it has admitted within the last five years but also all people who have fled their countries for various reasons. I think everyone knows how the Jews expelled from Spain were accepted into the Ottoman Empire.
In other words, it is not unusual to see Turkey restore the houses of worship belonging to citizens of different faiths. Turkey does not expect gratitude for it, either. But while there is still no mosque in operation in Athens, Muslims in Western Thrace are not allowed to choose their own mufti, 10,000 refugee children are missing in Europe and Denmark, which boasts of having an advanced democracy, refuses to comply with as small a refugee quota as 50 to 100 and confiscates jewelry from refugees entering the country, we have to regard this as exemplary behavior at any rate.
Reminiscent of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," there is a ghost haunting Denmark and all of Europe, and the name of that ghost is racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and neo-Nazism. In this respect, it must be said that with its vast cultural mosaic, Turkey can set the world a good example. As with the latest Jerusalem decision by the U.S. president, Turkey was the first country to mobilize the world's public by screaming that the emperor has no clothes once again. It is always Turkey taking action first regarding either the atrocities in Rakhine, Myanmar, or an unfortunate African country like Somalia. Today, it is the largest donor in terms of the ratio of humanitarian assistance to national income.
Sadly, however, a dishonest propaganda campaign meant to tarnish Turkey's reputation has been going on for a long time. The Foreign Ministry has learned that a Gulf Arab state alone has transferred $5 billion to Europe for this purpose. In fact, the disinformation that there is an authoritarian regime in Turkey that represses minorities and exerts pressure on Kurds and Alevis is being spread. There is also a parallel campaign meant to change the image of the PKK terrorist organization by concealing its recruitment and use of child soldiers and its killing of civilians.
In addition to not giving Turkey the promised 6 billion euros, the EU withholds from it even deserved small funds. Promised visa liberalization has not implemented. As for Turkey's accession to the EU, Greek Cyprus blocks the opening of new chapters. Instead, European Parliament recommends the suspension accession talks based on biased reports that were apparently made under the influence of the PKK lobby.
European countries openly sided with the opposition campaign ahead of the referendum on Turkey's government system, and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe produced an unprofessional report. While Turkish ministers were kept in their cars in Europe, Turkish-origin EU citizen were attacked by police dogs. Turkish nationals holding events for in support of the referendum were targeted by PKK militants. Religious officials affiliated with Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs, which provides the most reliable religious services in Europe, faced flimsy spying charges in Germany. Indeed, what all this meant was Europe shooting itself in the foot.
It is evident that Turkey's conservative government does not fit Western stereotypes. One of the reasons why is an arrogant view that sees only itself as civilized and democratic, imposing its own way of life on the rest of the world as a norm. The other is Turkey's emerging from its stupor and producing strong policies under the leadership of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments. Turkey no longer needs to beg for money and can now lend to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) itself.
Hence, Turkey cannot be controlled as it was in the past. It does not obey everything it is told to do.
The attitude of the U.S. and Europe on the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) coup attempt on July 15, 2016, was shameful. Laying aside Britain, we painfully saw how much they wanted that attempt to succeed and how much anger the foiling of the coup created. Thus, it turned out that the West seeks not allies, but vassal states. In fact, the support given to the PKK's Syrian affiliate by the U.S. and some European countries indisputably confirms this.
As a result of all this anger, Ankara faces propaganda that the coup was legitimate as it was in Egypt. The purpose is to lead people to believe that there is a dictatorship in Turkey and everyone complains about it. Toppling a government and its leader, whose legitimacy is questioned, is thus both legitimate and honorable. We have closely watched as many newspapers, strategic institutions and individual statements in the West have tried to establish a theoretical foundation for this view during the last five years. It seemed as if theories of militant democracy were being produced specifically for Turkey.
If FETÖ had succeeded on July 15, it would have been gladly accepted as a legitimate political actor like Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt, with the West saying they would be glad to work with them. Indeed, a statement from the U.S. on the night of the coup "counseling moderation to both sides" already confirmed that. The putschists were accepted as a legitimate side on that very night even.
So, what will we do from now on? The plot failed. They could neither design Turkey's domestic politics nor provoke a civil war. Turkey remains ever stronger, as Europe's biggest democratic Muslim neighbor and NATO's second-biggest military force. Moreover, it has gathered strength.
Could the recent thaw in relations with Germany and France be a sign? As always, Britain has been faster and more cautious than them and Germany seems to have budged from its obtuse stance. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is putting up a striking performance. It is a fact that Europe is formed by these three countries. No one should take umbrage at this, as it is not a personal opinion, but a generally accepted view among Europeans.
Relations with the U.S., however, are more strained. The U.S. continues both to host the leader of a major terrorist group, Fetullah Gülen, and deliver thousands of truckloads of arms to the PKK's affiliate in Syria. Media reports suggest that preparations are underway to recognize the Democratic Union Party (PYD). This raises the possibility of a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Turkey.
Then we can foresee the continuation of propaganda against Turkey. However, the U.S. will become more isolated on this matter. It is possible to create a perception for a while, but if the target country stands firm, such perception engineering backfires to the detriment of the perpetrator. Since Turkey would never let its sovereignty be impaired, we will wait around for those on the wrong side of history to come to their senses. If only they did not choose such a difficult and costly path.
But Turkey is determined to counter every move. And it has no other choice.
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