By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
ANKARA, TURKEY (Worthy News)-- Protestants in the eastern Turkish province of Van have finally succeeded in opening a house church after seven years of struggling with local bureaucracies, yet they are still concerned by the hostile rhetoric coming from their local officials.
"They see us as persons who deceive people and who have a secret agenda," elder Vahit Yıldız told Hurriyet Daily News. "It is not just the concept of a mission that causes prejudice, but also the concepts of 'house prayer' and 'house church.' The quintessential reason behind the fear is ... the rhetoric employed by some of the (Turkish) leaders, which deeply saddens us, besides the prejudices formed by the public."
Shortly after the church was opened, Mustafa Bilici -- a Van deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party -- lamented the occaision with Islamic-inspired anti-Semetic rhetoric.
"It is great heedlessness to open new churches in Muslim societies that are acting as stooges for Zionist activities," he said.
Yıldız said his congregation, composed of Turks, Azeris, Afghans, Kurds, Iranians and others, only want to worship freely.
"Our doors are open to anyone who wants to get to know us," he said.
The Protestant group had met in a private home for seven years while it appealed to local governments to obtain a license to be recognized as an official place of worship.
"Due to a lack of sufficient church buildings and (the authorities' refusal) to grant a Religious Designation License, there are over 100 house groups and rented places of worship all across Turkey," said Yıldız.
Yıldız pointed out that Christian clerics have been attacked and threatened in eastern Turkey, notably the murder of Andrea Santoro -- a priest who was killed in Trabzon -- as well as the Zirve Publishing House murders in Malatya.
"It is striking that (these) incidents have taken place in eastern provinces," said Yildiz. "For that reason, we are being very careful ... the way is being paved for similar attacks as long as the true perpetrators remain unexposed and judiciary penalties are not applied; no one will have the courage to commit such heinous attacks if the judiciary mechanism functions as it is supposed to."
Yıldız said that unless these mechanisms are in place, Christians here will continue meeting in house churches due to continued threats and attacks.
"We are waging a great struggle in this vein. Our true purpose in this struggle is to adopt an open and transparent attitude toward both local governments, as well as toward our state."