ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Kocaeli’s only known pastor, Karaali, escaped an assassination attempt.
Police in Kocaeli have prevented an alleged assassination attempt against Emre Karaali, the northwestern province’s only known Protestant pastor, detaining 12 men and seizing a number of weapons.
Karaali said the police confiscated guns, detailed records of his daily routine, a schedule of religious ceremonies, as well as a layout of the İzmit Protestant Church and his house, in a recent raid against suspected assailants. Six of the detained were released on Jan. 18, while the remaining six were testifying in court when the Daily News went to print.
“Some of the detainees periodically used to come to our services, and some others were not familiar at all. Police told me that people in this organization had ties with another city and someone from another country, but they did not name them,” Karaali told the Daily News on Jan. 18 over the phone.
Karaali said he had been receiving threats over the phone for nearly a year. The İzmit Protestant Church was founded as the first church in the city in 1999, the same year a massive earthquake killed 40,000 in Kocaeli, whose administrative center is İzmit.
Some locals had criticized the church at the beginning, accusing it of missionary intentions.
The church was preparing for four days of celebrations between Jan. 17 and 21 and had invited top local officials in the city before the plot was revealed.
On Jan. 15, local daily Çağdaş Kocaeli had criticized the church for “overrating” the event’s announcement.
“Many citizens who did not even know that there was a church in İzmit until yesterday, found out about the existence of the İzmit Protestant Church after leaflets were delivered to buildings and postboxes. It is not known how many members this mentioned church has, but the event was announced in the leaflets day by day,” the daily said in an anonymously published announcement, adding that some locals had become “annoyed” by the leaflets.
The report also accused the church of missionary activity and of aiming to detach local youth from Islam and bring them toward Christianity.
Zeynep Kübra Özçiçek, the daily’s managing editor, said her paper had made no attempt to target the church or Protestants but had only sought to convey that their readers were irritated.
“Our readers asked us to take the local mufti’s opinion. … The mufti did not make any comment, but invitations were sent to all the local brass in the city; this was not ordinary,” Özçiçek told the Daily News on Jan. 18.
Karaali, who has been living in İzmit since 2009, said he had never had any problems with locals but noted that ultranationalist writer Banu Avar had alleged on May 20, 2012, during a book fair in the city that İzmit had been chosen as a “pilot city by Christians to make Turks Protestants.” The comments were subsequently published in many papers, as well as the Kocaeli Municipality’s website.
Karaali said they filed a criminal complaint, but the court found Avar not guilty. Similar incidents occurred before the Zirve Publishing House massacre in Malatya in 2007, Karaali said.
Although the church was founded 14 years ago, the İzmit Protestant Church has only 20 members, Karaali said.