Christian families, communities commemorate slain Christian workers.

tillmann family singing

Susanne Geske and children at memorial

ISTANBUL, April 24 (Compass Direct News) – A year after the brutal martyrdom of three Christians for their faith in Malatya, Turkey’s tiny Christian community gathered quietly this past week to honor their memories and pray for their sorrowing families.

Turks Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Tilmann Geske were tied up, taunted for their faith in Christ, tortured and then slaughtered with knives in Turkey’s southeastern city of Malatya on April 18, 2007.

Murdered in the local Zirve Publishing office by five young Turkish Muslims who claimed to be defending Turkey and Islam from Christian missionaries, the three men left behind two widows, five fatherless children and a grieving fiancée.

Their memorials began mid-morning last Friday (April 18), in a small village cemetery in eastern Turkey.

There a freshly installed tombstone marks the grave of Yuksel, buried at the edge of Elazig’s Son village. He was 32 when he was slain.

“He was killed like Jesus,” reads the lettering at the foot of the gravestone. On either side of the monument are the words from one of Yuksel’s favorite Psalms, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but being with You.”

Twenty of Yuksel’s Christian friends came for the short ceremony of hymns, prayer and Scripture reading led by Diyarbakir pastor Ahmet Guvener.

Yuksel’s elderly parents also attended the service, screaming when news photographers and a filming crew from Dogan News Agency videotaped the entire ceremony – they had felt disgraced in the eyes of the local Muslim community when their son became a Christian, and the prospect of their presence at his Christian funeral being made public threatened even more loss of face.

A second graveyard service took place several hours later, 60 miles away in Malatya’s rarely used Armenian Christian cemetery.

There German widow Susanne Geske and her three children, Michel, Lukas and Miriam, joined 35 others to commemorate the life of Tilmann Geske, murdered at age 46.

Pastor Ihsan Ozbek of Ankara’s Kurtulus Churches led the service, which one participant told Compass was filled with songs of praise and “a powerful celebration” demonstrating that followers of Christ “do not weep like those with no hope.”

Local gendarme delayed both ceremonies for nearly a half hour by stopping vehicles going to and coming from Son village. Christians were certain that the ostensible purpose of providing security was only an excuse to harass them. After examining the identity papers of all Christians attending Yuksel’s service, soldiers allowed the mourners to drive on.

“This was not a routine check, because we were travelling on a tiny side road into the village,” complained one of the Christians who attended both graveside services. “It was disgraceful, nothing less, to treat people like this who were just going to commemorate the dead. They just wanted to find out who had come to Ugur’s service.”

That same day, Christian-owned Zirve Publishing Co. published a traditional black-bordered death anniversary notice in the daily Sabah newspaper.

“We remember with love and longing the ones mercilessly taken from us a year ago,”

the notice declared, displaying in large bold print the names of the three martyrs.

Aydin and Yuksel were both former Muslims who converted to Christianity. Geske was a German citizen who had lived in Turkey with his family for nearly 10 years.

“In the hope of our faith, we will be together with you again beside our Heavenly Father,” the ad concluded. “We have not forgotten you.”

Overflow Crowd in Istanbul

On Sunday (April 20), a nationwide memorial service in Istanbul drew more than 900 Christians from across Turkey to pay honor to the lives and savage deaths of the three Christians. The crowd overflowed the spacious sanctuary, spilling out into the courtyard and ringing the balcony corridor with onlookers.

Semse Aydin and Suzanne Geske sat side-by-side in the front pew of Istanbul’s St. Esprit Catholic Cathedral during the 90-minute service, accompanied by their five children.

They were flanked by clerics representing the local Orthodox and Catholic communities, foreign diplomats and several of the lawyers representing them in the murder trial against the five arrested suspects.

Seated just behind them, Armenian Christian widow Rakel Dink had come to pay her respects to the memory of the Malatya victims and meet their families. Her high-profile journalist husband, Hrant Dink, was murdered in Istanbul three months before the Malatya slaughter.

Both widows addressed the gathering briefly, sharing the difficulties they had faced over the loss of their husbands, along with the courage and hope they had found through God’s promises and fellow Christians.

“Every day without Necati this past year has been a bitter cup for me to drink,” Aydin said. “I am sure it has been the same for Suzanne and for Ugur’s fiancée.”

Geske quoted the Turkish words she had requested on her husband’s tombstone: “He came to serve the people of Malatya, but unfortunately, the people he came to serve killed him.”

Tears trickled down the cheeks of 6-year-old Esther Aydin and 9-year-old Miriam Geske as a 15-minute collage of photographs of their fathers and “Uncle Ugur” flashed up on an overhead screen, combined with recordings of the martyred men singing and speaking words of testimony.

Turkish Officials Absent

The absence of invited Turkish government officials and local media was conspicuous. According to the organizing committee for the memorial sponsored by the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches, both government officials and the Turkish press had been sent formal invitations.

With the exception of Cumhuriyet newspaper and the English-language Turkish Daily News, Turkish media made no mention of the Malatya murders memorial ceremony in Istanbul.

But in the closing address of the afternoon, the chairman of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches tackled head-on the significance of “this merciless massacre” for Turkey.

Declaring that individuals as well as society make deliberate choices, Izmir pastor Zekai Tanyar begged leaders governing Turkey to “awaken to the realities” taught in Christian Scriptures.

“Those who sow death cannot reap life. Those who sow evil cannot reap goodness. Those who sow curses cannot receive blessing,” he stressed.

“I knew Necati, Ugur and Tilmann, and especially Necati very well,” Tanyar said. “I laugh bitterly to hear the unscrupulous lies told about them. The only crime my three brothers committed was believing in God, following Jesus and telling people about God’s message of love and hope for them.”

Tanyar spoke against the common mindset that to be Turkish is to be Muslim.

“Give permission for my faith, and let the Creator be the judge!” Tanyar pled. “My heart loves my country and my Lord, and no slander, anti-propaganda, pressure or politicians can change that!”

Turkish Protestants have listed 19 incidents of violence perpetrated against their community of fewer than 4,000 during the past year.

At the close, dozens of participants filed down the side aisles of the church to lay long-stemmed red roses and flickering vigil candles before the cathedral altar.

A special edition of the Turkish Christian magazine Gercege Dogru (Toward the Truth) dedicated to the Malatya martyrs was distributed to attendees out in the cathedral courtyard, along with a newly published book of Necati Aydin’s poetry entitled My Name is Written in Heaven.

A third graveside service will be observed by Turkish widow Semse Aydin and her children Elisha and Esther next week in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, where Necati Aydin was buried just weeks before his 36th birthday.

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