4/19/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Friday, April 18th marked the seventh anniversary of the brutal murders of three Christians at the Zirve Publishing house in Malatya, Turkey. On April 18, 2007, two Turkish men, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and one German national, Tillman Geske, were brutally tortured and killed at the Christian publishing house in eastern Turkey. The five men responsible for their murders have not been convicted and are currently out of prison.
The trial of the five suspects – Emre Günaydın, Abuzer Yıldırım, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker and Salih Gürler – started November 22, 2007. The five men were caught at the scene of the crime and have confessed to their role in the murders. The Malatya killings have been linked to an investigation into an alleged coup plot that has complicated the proceedings. “In the case the prosecutors and judges have changed two times,” Umut Sahin, General Secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, told ICC. “New defendants have been added to the case, and some of them have pursued a strategy to extend the case,” Sahin continued. Despite 92 hearings and more than 100,000 pages of court documents, the five men responsible for the killing of the three Christians have not been convicted, and, in a remarkable twist, are currently out of prison.
A change to the Turkish legal structure resulted in the five men being released from prison on March 7, 2014 pending completion of the trial, Today’s Zaman
reported. This strange twist has further weakened the trust of the Turkish Christian community in the justice system. “Three Christians in Malatya were killed. Three fathers, three men, three husbands …and today, the number one perpetrators of the incident,[who were] caught red-handed, with bloody hands, [these] murderers are on the street,” Gokhan Talas wrote in Agos
, a Turkish newspaper.
“I was a little shocked,” Lukas Geske, son of Tilman Geske, told International Christian Concern (ICC) about hearing that the give men were released from prison. “But I wasn’t afraid and I wasn’t angry because I have already forgiven them seven years ago.” The Geske family still lives in Malatya, “We weren’t afraid of what happened, we just were totally sad,” Geske said. “We stayed because God called us to stay here and that is why we stayed.”
The 93rd hearing in the case was scheduled for April 10, 2014 but was delayed until June 23 and “has been transferred to Malatya’s First High Criminal Court, where a completely new panel of judges and prosecutors are assigned to the case,” according to World Watch Monitor
. “The trial is just punishing the guilty, in my opinion the important thing is to forgive them from what they did,”Geske said when asked about the endless delays in the trial.
Seven years on from the brutal murders, these events continue to cast a shadow over the Christian community in Turkey, though the level of hostility towards Christians has gradually decreased. “There has not been much change legally [regarding the rights of Christians],” Sahin said, “However, there is an increase in tolerance of Christians in the state. Christianity has become more visible and anti-Christian publications in major media outlets also greatly reduced,” Sahin told ICC. Yet the memory of the Malatya Massacre is still fresh in the minds of many Christians. As a number of Christians posted on their social media profiles: “We Won’t Forget …We Won’t Let It Be Forgotten…” On Friday, celebrations including a memorial gathering to mark the anniversary of the death of these three Christians and the opening service of the first registered church in Malatya took place.
Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Following the seventh anniversary of the tragic events at the Zirve Publishing House, we continue the call for justice to be handed down by the courts for those responsible for these killings. We continue to pray for the friends and families of those who were killed that day. We urge the Turkish government to send a clear message that the rights and freedoms for Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey will be upheld and protected. It is important for Turks, of all religious and ethnic identity to fully enjoy the benefits of Turkish citizenship.”