Friday, 8 June 2007

mystery, enigma, riddle... Turkey

Wow. A place with historical significance that is is almost unsurpassed, wonderful food, warm people, a bursting economy, beautiful and varied landscape, architecture, and yet so full of contradictions and tensions and violence... For an insight into Turkey, the newspaper Zaman is a good place to start.

Although Christians are martyred every day, in great numbers, across Africa and the Indian subcontient, these three murders (the first Protestant Christian martyrs since 1924, by some accounts) caught the attention of various portions of the world media (though not the BBC, oddly).

The ethnic and political difficulties in modern Turkey are quite remarkable. Whether it's Kurds or Armenians or Greeks, everyone apparently has it in for the Turks. I have not seen many internet debates hotter than those surrounding the events of 1892-1917, which are still very much alive to thousands, if not millions. Proper scholars debate the 'genocide' question, it's not just net fiends, and there are reasons to tone down the rhetoric and listen carefully to the official Turkish position regarding these events.

But brutalities aside for a moment (there is not much I can meaningfully say about them from the comfort of Cambridge), what I struggle to understand, as an Englishman, for whom diffidence about my nationality is part of what patriotism means, is how this incredible patriotism works alongside all the undercurrents of cultural Islam (not to mention all the varieties of Islam found in Turkey). And I have scarce come a across people so keenly aware of the injustice against them in the eyes of the world, so willing to mutter darkly about conspiracies. Orhan Pamuk's Snow was a wonderful dramatisation of some of these tensions (not that everyone likes his style), but it's easy to poke and provoke - much harder to achieve something constructive. So, in my wonder, confusion and frustration at Turkey recently it was wonderful to come across the blog of a Christian Turk. He rightly points to the need for the gospel (a weapon of mass forgiveness and love) if there is to be any deep reconciliation there, as indeed is true for all nations, all regions, all families, all people.

When in my ignorance and prejudices I am confronted by Turkey, it is necessary to be humbled, to realise that so many people have more right to speak than I do, and to pray for God's mercy. The witness of believers in Turkey today, such as the public forgiveness of their husbands' killers expressed by the Malatya widows, is what offers hope.