Syrian refugees’ drawings:
Schoolchildren’s sketches of their dream homes at the Boynuyogun refugee camp in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border. Inside the camp, tent canvases have been decorated with refugees’ drawings
This week’s show features two Christian communities who are now minorities in Turkey’s religious makeup. While they are on the spiritual boundaries of the secular state of Turkey, they are finding new-found freedoms under a government headed by an Muslim prime minister.
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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, conducts a service at the Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, northeastern Turkey on August 15, 2010. Orthodox Christians held a rare Mass at an ancient monastery in Turkey after the government allowed worship there once a year in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. (Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
Orthodox priests get ready for the Virgin Mary service at the ancient Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon, northeastern Turkey, on August 15, 2010. Thousands of Orthodox pilgrims from Greece, Russia, and Georgia attended the Mass, which was led by Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I , the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, at Sumela Monastery for the first time since 1923. (Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editorComments
Photo by José Manuel Ríos Valiente via Flick’s Creative Commons license
Our production team will be traveling to Istanbul this Saturday, and we’re looking to speak with some big thinkers for our public radio program. We want to better understand how Turkey carries forward its historical roots in the Ottoman Empire and before, and how its making the transition from a strict, secular democracy to one that allows for a more expression of religious identity and government rule. Who might be able to tease out the nuances of this tension and growth in Turkey as the country becomes a positive model for other burgeoning democracies in the region?
This person who could walk the line between being an expert who lives out these ideas in his or her daily life. Preferably we’d like to speak to someone who is a practicing Muslim and who grew up with a belief in the virtues and values of Ataturk’s secular approach to democracy. Or maybe this person never felt like those two identities fit in Turkey… But now is hopeful that the two can coexist. How does the larger context play out in individual lives of the speaker and other Turks?
And, since we’re a public radio program aired in the U.S., we’ll need them to be able to carry an hour-long conversation in fairly good English.
Offer your suggestions in the comments section here, or even email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you know others who might have some ideas, please pass our request along. We’d be much indebted to you.Comments
by Mustafa Abdelhalim, guest contributor
Last week, Egyptians went to the polls to participate in the first presidential election since Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011. Going forward, the new president, who will be elected in the second phase of elections in June, should look to examples from other countries that have undergone successful democratic transitions.
When asked what leader outside their own country they most admired, a recent poll from the University of Maryland found that 63 percent of Egyptians answered Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, indicating that Egyptians may be interested in learning from Turkey. Turkey can serve as a relevant model because it has successfully dealt with three key challenges facing Egypt — the relationship of the army to a civilian government, economic growth and fostering positive international relations.
by Ramazan Kılınç, guest contributor
Halki Monastery and Seminary (photo by ©Nectarios Eben Trevino/Flickr)
In a recent New York Times article Susanne Güsten described the difficulties that Syriac Christians faced throughout the history of Republican Turkey. This story reflects the traumatic consequences of the nation-building process that modern Turkey has experienced since the 1920s and 1930s. The Turkish official national identity was based on the ideology of Kemalism, which idealized a homogenous society defined by secularism and nationalism. This ideal, which has been alien to diversity, made life very difficult for ethnic and religious minorities.
Turkish secularism, in contrast to the American experience of secularism that separated religion and the state, excluded religion from the public sphere and aimed to keep it under state control. In an aim to distance itself from the Ottoman Muslim past, the state took a hostile position against religion. It banned organizing around religion. Even today, all religious associations, including Muslim ones, do not exist legally. Related to this, the state does not allow religious education outside of the state domain. The state itself took the responsibility to teach a Hanefi/Sunni interpretation of Islam. The motive of the “secular” state was to institute an “official Islam.” Only a limited number of non-Muslims, excluding Syriacs, were given the right to open religious schools.
Turkish nationalism perceived ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, as a threat to the ideal of a homogeneous Turkish nation. In the early years of the Republic, Turkey and Greece had large-scale population exchanges in an effort to homogenize their respective societies. Turkish Muslims in Western Thrace moved to Turkey while Greek Christians in Istanbul moved to Greece. In later years when nationalism peaked, the status of minorities including Christians worsened. For example, in the late 1960s, when Turkey had international problems with Greece over the Cyprus conflict, the state expropriated land and properties owned by Christian community foundations by using simple legal technicalities. Again when Turkey had problems with Greece, Turkey closed down the historical Theological School of Halki, which was opened to train Greek Orthodox clergy under Ottoman rule in 1844. Additionally, due mostly to the nationalist security perceptions of the state, religious minorities faced restrictions in opening up spaces for religious practice.
Only after Turkish secularism and nationalism started to weaken in recent years, the Turkish government implemented new reforms enhancing the religious freedoms of Christian minorities in Turkey. Although many significant problems still exist, the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party has passed several laws to enhance religious liberties for minorities over the last decade. The state passed new laws to return all expropriated properties to non-Muslim community foundations or to compensate the community foundations for properties transferred to third parties. The new laws made it easy to open houses of worship even though some local authorities still keep creating bureaucratic hurdles for non-Muslim minorities.
However, the recent reforms are far from satisfactory. They have not yet offered a solution to many problems that Christian minorities face. Religious communities still do not exist legally and they cannot establish religion-based associations and organizations. Similarly, religious groups cannot open educational institutions to teach religion. The Theological School of Halki, for example, is still closed.
The only comprehensive solution to these problems is to redefine Turkish secularism to make it more inclusive. Secularism in its current form is used as an ideological tool to guarantee state control of religion. For religious freedoms to thrive, Turkish secularism should be transformed into a constitutional principle that guarantees religious freedoms while keeping religion out of the control of the state. This change will prevent the state from intervening in the internal affairs of religious communities including Christian minorities. A change that allows an autonomous sphere to religious minorities would also bring them legal guarantees. While it is true that the current government in Turkey is more tolerant of Christian minorities than its predecessors, Turkey still needs a legal framework that protects the freedoms of Christian minorities. Only a transformation of Turkish secularism could make such a legal framework possible.
Ramazan Kılınç is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.Comments
by Susan Leem, associate producer
On this first day of spring, Persian families around the world are greeting each other with “Sal-e No Mobarak!” and “Happy New Year!” in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, a day of beginnings. Translated as "new day," the solar-based holiday marks the first day of the first year of the Bahá’í calendar and the falls on the vernal equinox.
The holiday has wider cultural and national significance for modern Iranians who often celebrate with family and friends by sharing meals together, cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, and performing contemporary expressions of ancient customs. Rooted in Zoroastrianism (the prophet Zoroaster himself is credited with creating this festival) in pre-Islamic Persia, Nowruz is also celebrated in surrounding geographic regions influenced by the Persian empire in the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
"Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, 'zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man,' the special song means ‘my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.’ Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire.”
The traditional haft-seen table is an important part of Nowruz celebrations. Iranians prepare these settings in their homes by gathering seven items that start with the letter “s,” which have positive meanings: the spice sumac for sunrise, seeb (apples) for beauty, and sir (garlic) for health, among others.
Goldfish also make an appearance on the haft-seen table. They are symbols of new life and the end of the astral year associated with the zodiac sign Pisces. They are sold in markets along with other Nowruz accoutrements.
Sabzeh is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature. On the thirteenth day of the celebration, it is customary to throw these sprouts away into running water, as the sabzeh is thought to collect negativity and illness in the household while it grew there. This purging represents purification and new beginnings.Comments
I had seen previews on PBS for this Nature special several times but never found the time to watch it. Your question was the catalyst. Thank you. What a gorgeous film and what a novel way of seeing the world!
I’m embedding it within this reply so that others may watch it in the days leading up to Thanksgiving in the States. In many ways, characters like Joe Hutto and Alan Rabinowitz, whom we interviewed for “A Voice for the Animals,” are windows for our species. They’re eccentric characters that teach us about ourselves as a species and as a sentient beings through their interactions with wildlife. They also prove that we have a lot to learn when it comes to our sweeping generalizations about other species.
Here are a few of Joe Hutto’s words of wisdom that strike at the core of who this man is and how we can learn from his observations:
"And I realized that my involvement in this experiment was going to be a very personal, very emotional ride for me — and not just a science experiment."
"Each day as I leave the confines of my language and culture, these creatures seem to become in every way my superiors. They are more alert, sensitive, and aware. They’re in many ways, in fact, more intelligent. They’re understanding of the forest is beyond my ability to comprehend."
"Emotions are certainly not peculiar to the human experience. In their observation of death, the death of another turkey that is a member of their group, it’s a very conscious behavior as if they are trying to understand what the meaning of this is."
And, boy, I’d regret not commenting on the ending scene with Turkey Boy. My Life as a Turkey is a brutal reminder that with all of the kindness, the tenderness, and the social interaction between man and bird, nature and creatures desire not only to survive but to dominate and establish dominion.
Thank you so much for the reminder,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor