SAT-7 TÜRK Broadcasting Manager Gökhan Talas spoke this week following the long-awaited conviction of five men for the 2007 murders of three staff of a Turkish Christian publishing house where Talas and his wife also worked.
On 28 September the criminal court in Malatya sentenced five Turkish men to life imprisonment for the premeditated murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Uğur Yüksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske at the Zirve publishing house in the city on 18 April 2007.
Gökhan and his wife, Őzge, narrowly escaped the attack themselves by briefly leaving the office to grab breakfast.
“I was the last man to talk to Ugur,” Gökhan explained. “He called me and told me to go to a hotel for a meeting I knew had not been arranged. I knew something was seriously wrong and called the police.”
It was thanks to this that the murderers, who had tortured and slit the throats of Gökhan’s colleagues, were caught red-handed at the scene.
After the judgment last week, Revd Ihsan Ozbek, chair of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey (TeK), said the verdict “would bring some peace of mind [for] the relatives and friends of the martyrs”.
But he voiced deep frustration at the nine-year delay in sentencing and the court’s failure to expose the criminal network that the judge accepted must have planned the attack.
Gökhan agreed. He expressed his relief that the killers have now been sentenced but said, “The decision to sentence them came after nine and a half years. All the murderers’ connections are lost; now no one can trace the network behind them.”
In addition to the five murderers, two military officers were also given jail sentences of nearly 14 and 15 years respectively for involvement in the case.
Referring to “the dark powers” spoken of by Revd Ozbek, Gökhan said, “The murderers are in jail but the people behind this are still free. We feel the big picture is being hidden from us. Turkey’s Christians don’t feel safe because of this.”
Alarm had also been caused by the release of the five accused back in March 2014 when a new law led to their only being kept under surveillance. Even last week, the five were not immediately arrested pending the hearing of their appeals, until an outcry and fears that they might flee Turkey resulted in their re-arrest on Wednesday night (28 September).
Although the sentencing of the five men will now be considered by the Court of Appeals, Gökhan said, “I don’t think the case will be overturned. I believe they will spend their lives in jail.”
Nevertheless, he said the case is not completely isolated: “Christians in Turkey feel there is a potential risk all the time.
“It’s one reason that an important part of our work through SAT-7’s television programmes is to show Turkish people that Christianity is not a threat to the country but a message of life and hope. And it has been here in this country for 2,000 years.”