Guest Blog by Uzay Bulut
Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian Catholic priest, was murdered on February 5, 2006 in the Santa Maria Catholic Church in the northern Turkish city of Trabzon, where he served.
Oguzhan Akdin, the killer of the 61-year-old priest, was 16 at the time. He was released on probation in August of last year.
The Turkish newspaper Karadeniz recently conducted an interview with Akdin, asking him about his motives for killing of the priest and whether he regrets it today.
“I regret it only because I put my state [Turkey] in a difficult situation,” Akdin replied, claiming that he killed the priest due to his “missionary activities.”
“I had been investigating topics about our religion for a long time. I had an admiration for nationalistic currents of thought. I read a manifesto titled The Confessions of Missionaries, which said that Anatolia would be Christian again and that Turks would be driven to the Central Asia. I was doing research on that continuously.”
Akdin said that he then learned there was a church in Trabzon and that he wanted to see what the church officials were doing there. He went to the church “out of curiosity” but shot his gun “in the face of a response he got from the priest.”
“When I went there, I saw Priest Santoro. My only purpose was to ask if they engaged in missionary activities. I asked him if he could explain why some young people are led [to believe] in Christianity.
“He replied by saying that Christianity is the true religion, and that they will definitely make all Turks Christian one day. Then I pulled out the gun I was carrying and told him, ‘It is not your religion, but our religion (Islam) that is the true religion,’ and shot him, reciting takbir [Allahu akbar – Allah is the greatest!]”
Although Akdin claims that the priest said all Turks would be made Christian and that Christianity is the one true religion, it is highly unlikely any priest — especially not in Trabzon — would have made such statements.
Turkey has a tiny Christian minority that is exposed to constant threats and discrimination. Christian clergymen are in an extremely vulnerable position, as physical violence against them are commonplace.
A priest making any statement deemed “derogatory” or “offensive” to devout Muslims would mean signing his own death warrant.
In fact, all Christians in Turkey are “taught” that “respecting” Islam is a required precaution for their safety.
Akdin is now 28 and living in a city on the Aegean region in Turkey. He is planning to start a business and proclaims that he want to be “a good son of his homeland and nation.”
“I am proud of being a Turk and a Muslim; our land and nation are indivisible and if the homeland is of concern, the rest is just details.”
In 2011, Akdin wrote a letter to one of his relatives, whom he called his “brother,” revealing that he was not only enjoying his life in prison but also plotting other murders including the murder of the Pope:
“I am like a king inside [the prison]. I have my PlayStation, I never get bored. They always do whatever I want. Who the hell was Santoro? When I am released, I will shoot down the pope.”
It emerged in 2008 that Father Santoro’s phones had already been tapped for three months by the time of his murder.
The police had marked him as a suspect active in “separatist activities based on the Pontos Greek idea,” that is, reviving Greek Orthodox sovereignty in the Black Sea area.
Trabzon was the capital of the Greek-speaking Komnenos Byzantine Kingdom established in 1204 within the Pontos region, the northeast portion of Anatolia adjacent the Black Sea. It fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1461.
Today, there are no Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian communities in the Black Sea region in Turkey. All their members were murdered or forcibly driven out of their native lands between 1914 and 1923.
But the police form that was submitted to a local court to request the authority to tap the priest’s phone stated that Father Santoro “had even come to Trabzon in 2003 to organize Pontosist (pro-Pontos) activities in the Black sea region, recruit members for his organization, provide the required financing and carry out relevant activities as an official in charge in order to destroy the unity and integrity of Turkey.”
Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a Turkish human rights lawyer, pointed out the role of Turkey’s state forces in targeting and demonizing Christian clergymen in Turkey.
“In 2001, for the first time, Turkey’s National Security Council (NSC) argued that missionary activities should be regarded as a threat,” said Cengiz. “Then they started raising the issue of missionary activities in every meeting of the NSC to pave the way for the murders.
“It seems that JITEM [the Turkish Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization] had a role in those murders, but if the police had not turned a blind eye, they would not have happened,” said Cengiz. “And if the intelligence units had wanted to prevent them, they would have, but they [also] chose to turn a blind eye.”
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb