'Missionaries single out Istanbul'

Istanbul, Turkey - There's more missionary activity in Istanbul than anywhere else in the country and the number of Jehovah's Witnesses is on the rise, according to a recent Ankara Chamber of Trade and Commerce (ATO) report.

There are 126 churches for Turkish Christians of different nominations in Istanbul, as well as four periodicals, one cafe, 36 associations, 17 newspapers, 12 Internet sites, one museum, one hotel, six radio stations, six companies, 44 foundations and two publishing houses. In relatively well-off neighborhoods in Istanbul, missionaries use movie theaters, theaters, cafes and other entertainment venues for activities such as screening Christian movies. The two publishing houses distribute books, leaflets, audio cassettes, CDs and VCDs to promote and propagate Christianity nationwide.

There are around 6.5 million Jehovah's Witnesses in 235 countries (and on islands) around the world, with around 2,000 in Turkey, Arto Zagikyan of the Jehovah's Witness told the Anka News Agency yesterday. Stating that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't involved in corruption, smuggling or politics, Zagikyan said that they're only interested in spiritual matters.

He explained that they have numerous houses of worship, called "Kingdom Halls," in various areas of Istanbul and stated that their goal is to promote their faith to others through the books and leaflets they distribute.

A report recently released by ATO indicates that Turkey has become a key target country for missionaries, accusing such activities of threatening the unitary structure of the state by provoking ethnic and religious differences. Asserting that missionaries are people who call themselves "messiahs" and come from places as diverse as South Korea, the U.S., the UK, New Zealand, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Romania, the report adds that they are mostly coordinated from Adana, Edirne, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Trabzon, Antalya, Hatay, Bursa and Samsun.

Stating there are an overall some 50,000 Christian communities in Turkey, the report added that outside Istanbul Christians have over 300 places of worship, numerous bookstores, one library, six periodicals, dozens of foundations, numerous printing houses, five radio stations, several monasteries, two cafes, one gathering place, six commercial companies, one hotel, one translation office, seven newspapers, two museums, and dozens of associations dedicated to missionary activity. Underlining that in 2003 alone there were 190 instances of missionary activity, the report said that the Bahais were responsible for 27 of them, adding that the Bahais concentrate on Sivas and Erzincan, while Christians tend to focus on Nevsehir, Adiyaman, Adana, Bursa, Diyarbakir and Mersin. The report listed the various groups in Turkey involved in missionary activity as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahais, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox.

ATO gave the following information about the different missionary groups:

Jehovah's Witnesses: Their headquarters are in New York. Traveling preachers spread oral propaganda. Members distribute books, magazines and leaflets and hold seminars and meetings. While their activities are predominantly based in Istanbul, there are also Kingdom Halls in Ankara, Izmir, Eskisehir, Antalya, Hatay, Aydin, Kusadasi and Mersin. Their activities are coordinated by the Holy Book Courses Association set up in Istanbul in 1974.

Bahais: They concentrate their efforts on Sivas, Erzincan, Hatay, Adana, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Birecik, Mersin, Edirne and Istanbul.

Protestants: Their headquarters are in Schormdorf, Germany. In Ankara there's the Turkish Protestant Churches Union as well as 19 other Protestant churches established in 2000.

Catholics: Organized by the Vatican.

Orthodox: They've been attempting to create an Orthodox separatist movement in the Eastern Black Sea region since the 1980s.

Syrian Orthodox: They're based in Mardin and predominantly seek recognition of their right to practice their religion and develop their culture.

For the most part missionaries based in Ankara are either Protestant or Jehovah's Witnesses, the report said. It went on to say that the activities of the Protestant community are organized by the 10 Protestant churches linked to Kurtulus church in Balgat, adding that they distribute books and leaflets to the public in Ankara.