Turkey Uncensored: Was Turkey’s War on Christmas a War on Christians?

Uzay Bulut | March 30, 2017

Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches recently issued its 2016 Human Rights Violations Report, which describes in detail the problems the Protestant community experienced in Turkey last year.

According to that report, Turkey’s Protestant Christians – like in previous years – did not have the right or freedom to own their own places of worship, to share their faith, to train religious leaders, or to be exempt from the Islamic “religious culture and moral knowledge classes” in schools.

Moreover, the Protestant community in Turkey is not even officially recognized as a “legal entity” by the government. The association’s report said that “The legal entity problem is the concern of all religious groups as well as minority groups in Turkey.”

Another problem the Association of Protestant Churches emphasized was the “hate crimes and speech, verbal and physical attacks” to which Christians in Turkey have been exposed: “During Christmas and New Year’s of 2016, there was an increase from previous years in anti-Christmas celebration campaigns,” it read. “Having certain groups and organizations participate in this campaign caused an environment of hate. There was little evidence of response to this hate campaign by the justice and public authorities.”

Indeed, physical and verbal attacks against Christmas celebrations, Santa Claus and other Christian traditions are obvious evidences of the frenzy of Christian-hatred in Turkey. Santa Claus is now “persecuted” in the country each year. People have battered characters dressed as him, and have pointed a gun to his head, made him convert to Islam, chased him in the streets, and even circumcised him. And no one of the perpetrators has been brought into account.

Last December 28, in the city of Aydın, a nationalist-Islamist group known as Alperen Hearths performed a public “play” in which it attempted to exhibit its “opposition” to Christmas. The group battered a man in a Santa Claus costume and pointed a gun to his head. See photos here.

The leader of the group announced, “Our aim is to make people turn to their roots a little bit. We are the Muslim Turkish nation that has been the flag-bearers of Islam for a thousand years. We have prepared this organization to state that we are against celebrating Christmas completely in line with Christian traditions and to remind how our festivals should be celebrated spiritually and nationally.”

Ten of the play’s participants were taken into police custody, only to be released shortly thereafter. Turkey’s Doğan News Agency reported that no investigation was launched against the performers of the play.

That is not shocking, given the stance of some Turkish government institutions on Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Turkey’s state-funded Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) recently declared that New Year celebrations are “illegitimate attitudes and behaviors that are against our values and that do not contribute to human lives.” That sermon was read in all mosques across Turkey.

Attacks against holiday celebrations have turned into a sort of tradition in Turkey. In 2015, the members of the Turkish nationalist Great Union Party (BBP) performed another public play in the most crowded street of the city of Bolu. They began by “catching” a man dressed as Santa Claus, and brought him to another figure who was wearing the robes of an Ottoman qadi (a judge of a Sharia court). When the qadi “forgave” Santa, Father Christmas publicly converted to Islam and recited the Shahada, the public recitation of Islamic belief that is declared by all converts to Islam (video here).

The head of the BBP in Bolu, who played the role of the qadi, said, “We know that our people see New Year’s as entertainment, not as Christmas. But to not look like [Christians] and to try not to be one of them is also obviously stated in a hadith of our prophet. We organized a beautiful play to warn people.”

Three years ago, members of the same BBP chased and “symbolically” drew a man in a Santa suit out of the city of Bolu. In a play they performed publicly, Santa Claus began distributing gifts to passersby. Then a man wearing the robes of an Ottoman sultan passed by Santa Claus and asked the vizier (Ottoman “prime minister,” second only to the sultan himself) what Santa was doing. The sultan then ordered his janissaries “to drive [Santa] out of the city,” after which they began chasing Father Christmas through the streets.

Janissaries (meaning “new soldiers”) were the Ottoman sultans’ elite infantry units made up of Christian male slaves who were captured and forcibly converted to Islam.

Santa has also been “circumcised” in Turkey. In December 2013, Islamic students gathered at a square at the faculty of letters at Istanbul University displayed an inflatable Santa Claus to protest Christmas and New Year celebrations. They then used a blade to circumcise the doll by stabbing it multiple times.

During recent years, posters showing a muscular, bearded Muslim throwing a punch at Santa Claus have been hung across many cities in Turkey, under captions that read “No to the celebrations of New Year’s and Christmas” or “Muslims do not celebrate Christmas.

Signboards were also seen in the streets of the city of Van, which in part warned, “Remember! Santa Claus is the representative of the culture that throws toys from the sky on his own children, but bombs on Muslim children.”

Turkish posters demonizing Santa Claus and Christmas have been widespread on Facebook. Santa is pictured as a monstrous creature accompanied by quotes from Islamic scriptures such as:

  • “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” (Hadith, a saying of Mohammed)
  • “If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers.” (Quran verse Al-Baqarah – 145)
  • “Avoid the festivals of the enemies of Allah.” (A saying of the Islamic caliph Umar Bin al-Khattab)
  • “You are extending to them affection while they have disbelieved in what came to you of the truth.” (Quranic verse Al-Mumtahanah-1)

These attacks against Santa Claus, Christmas and New Year are not carried out by just the extremists of Turkish society. New Year celebrations were also banned by provincial directors of national education across Turkey on several previous occasions.

Last December, for example, Murat Mücahit Yentür, the district director of national education in the Şişli neighborhood of Istanbul, sent a letter to all of the schools in the district declaring that Christmas or anything related to New Year could not be celebrated in schools.

The letter said, in part, “Celebrations of Christmas/New Year are not harmonious with our cultural values.”

Practices and posters that promote hatred or extreme prejudice against Christians and Christian traditions in Turkey are dangerous because they have the very real potential of encouraging extremist Muslims to physically attack and even murder Christians – tragically, a commonplace practice in the country.

But Santa Claus is not a “foreign” figure in lands in which Turks currently reside. Santa grew out of traditions surrounding Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra in the present-day Turkish city of Antalya.

The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Christians for his kindness and generosity – not for any “monstrous” characteristics. His legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus.

If these “protesters” or poster designers received a truthful and objective education on the history of Asia Minor – particularly on its Greek and pre-Islamic history – they would most likely be enjoying or at least respecting these peaceful traditions.

However, according to the mainstream narrative in Turkish history textbooks, Turks are the only sovereign and permanent rulers and residents of their lands. Christians and other non-Muslim minorities are often affiliated with being “traitors” or “enemies,” particularly during World War I and the “Turkish salvation war” of the 1920s.

Historic revisionism has not only facilitated the cultural genocide against native civilizations in Turkey. It has also filled many Turkish citizens with hatred against the indigenous Christian peoples of Asia Minor, for whose extermination Turkey itself is responsible.