Christian churches targeted in Turkey during failed military coup

Christian churches in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country with a long history of Christian persecution became targets of violence as army coup threatened Turkey on July 15.

Syriac Christians from Turkey and Syria attend a mass at the Mort Shmuni Syriac Orthodox Church in the town of Midyat, in Mardin province of southeast Turkey in this February 2, 2014 file photo. | REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS

The Christian rights advocates group based in the Middle East, Middle East Concern (MEC), reported at least two cases of violence targeting Christian churches during Friday's failed military coup. Each targeted church also brought back memories of past violence against Christians.

One of the attacks happened in Trabzon. A group of 10 people attacked Santa Maria Church with paving stones and hammers to smash the windows and attempted to break in until Muslims in the neighborhood stopped them and drove them away.

This church at Black Sea town also witnessed a decade ago how an ultra-nationalist teenager shot Fr. Andrea Santoro at the back of the head as the Catholic priest prayed.

The Malatya province also witnessed the brutal murder of three Christian workers nine years ago. This time, the Malatya Protestant Church became the target as attackers shattered the church windows and managed to break in. The church's pastor, Tim Stone, said the suspect might have only been one person acting on vengeance against the church.

Canon Ian Sherwood of The Crimea Memorial Church in Istanbul said many Christians are fleeing the country for safety.

"I'm not optimistic about the plight of Christians in Turkey," he told The Spectator. "Bear in mind we've had a Roman Catholic Bishop murdered, we've had clergy threatened, we've had one priest murdered 10 years ago. Any Christian leader, if they're being honest, would say that some of what's going on is quite alarming."

The British chaplain expressed his hope that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also champions the rights of Christians in a country where 99 percent of its people identify as Sunni Muslim.

"We wish Turkey peace and tolerance – the same tolerance that most societies west of Turkey enjoy," he said.