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Assaults on Armenian Women in Istanbul Unsettle Christians, Muslims

31 Jan 2013 – By James Martone

ISTANBUL (CNS) — As a light snow fell, Bahija Geyimli exited Immaculate Conception Armenian Catholic Church after Mass in the Samatya neighborhood, the heart of Istanbul’s Armenian community. If recent attacks in the area had scared her, she wasn’t showing it.

Wrapping a wool scarf around her head, Geyimli, 71, descended the church’s ancient stone steps.

“There are robberies,” she acknowledged on 27 January in response to a question about a series of assaults that have targeted Armenian women like her.

Geyimli said she thought the women had been attacked because “Armenians are known for keeping money and other valuables.”

“It’s for money. ... It’s not because they were Christian,” she told Catholic News Service.

She walked through the church courtyard and headed for an empty Samatya side street, alone, carrying a big black purse.

Four attacks have occurred since December in Samatya, a once-flourishing Christian Armenian and Greek neighborhood bordering the Marmara Sea. The area today mostly is inhabited by Muslims who make up the vast majority of Turkey’s population of 75 million.

Turkish media reported that all of the victims — at least three of whom were in their 80s — were Armenian Christians; three were assaulted in their homes while one was stabbed to death. One woman was assaulted on her way to church by three men who tried to kidnap her before they were chased away by passersby, according to the reports. Valuables were stolen in at least three of the incidents.

An estimated 120,000 Christians of different denominations and about 25,000 Jews live in Turkey. Muslim minority groups live among the larger Sunni majority.

“Of course we deplore such attacks,” said a senior member of Turkey’s 35,000-member Catholic community who asked to remain anonymous because of a growing apprehension in the wake of the crimes. Though the victims have been Orthodox Christians, he said attacks on any of the country’s religious minorities were worrisome.

He also cautioned against jumping to conclusions about who or what was behind the assaults.

“That can be counterproductive,” he said.

Turkey’s relationship with its minorities is a long and sometimes murky one. The country’s present government and those before it dispute international claims that tens of thousands of Armenians and other Christians were victims of genocide in 1915 in what was then the Ottoman Empire.

Circumstances surrounding more recent attacks on Christians remain controversial. The killings of Father Andrea Sontoro in Trabzon in 2006, the shooting death of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and the killing of three Christian missionaries in Malatya in central Turkey in 2007, and the slaying of Bishop Luigi Padovese of Anatolia in 2010 serve as reminders to members of religious minorities of the challenges they continue to face.

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