Joe Onwukeme, a public affairs analyst, reflects on the role of religion in Nigeria’s political terrain, concluding that Nigerians need to come together as one, irrespective of religious, ethnic or party affiliations, for the country to move forward…
“The historian’s duty is to separate the true from the false, the certain from the uncertain, and the doubtful from that which cannot be accepted”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Never knew some presumptuous apologists of the ruling government are very vast in history until 2015 presidential election campaigns began, you must have watched so many documentaries, programmes, jingles, advert or whatever name they call it on local television stations with an intention to discredit individuals, groups and even religion. What kind of history are they teaching the younger generation and what do they intend to gain in propagating such history?
Many Christian groups have joined the propaganda train, some profiteers of the government amongst them and some shallow minded preachers have been obfuscating in ignorance with their debased and baseless preachings, that a vote for a change is a vote to Islamize Nigeria, using Turkey’s decline in Christian population as an example.
It was because of such lies and deceit that the late Afro beat maestro Fela Kuti sang the song, “teacher don’t teach me nonsense”.
As postulated by late IVAN PANIN- “The great historian is he that can distinguish what is done from what happens-
As a student of history, I was privileged to have been taught by dedicated and committed grey haired lecturers that have traversed the world in search of knowledge.
My first correction is this, to those that are referring Turkey as a once Christian nation, part of the place being referred to as Turkey today was a conglomeration of different regions. The region before 1923 was referred to as Asia minor, or the Anatolian peninsula. Turkey only became a republic in 1923.
Christianity has a long history in Anatolia-Asia Minor and Armenian Highland (now part of Turkey), which is the birthplace of numerous Christian Apostles and Saints, such as Paul of Tarsus, Timothy, Nicholas of Myra, Polycarp of Smyrna and many others.
Antioch was also the place where the followers of Jesus were called “Christians” for the first time in history, as well as being the site of one of the earliest and oldest surviving churches, established by Saint Peter himself. For a thousand years, the Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world.
During my third year at the University, in one of our courses: “The Middle East In International Affairs”, a revered and erudite scholar, Dr Okechukwu E. Okeke. In his book- “The Middle East Since 1917,” averred that the capture of Constantinople capital of the Byzantine Empire, by an invading army of the Ottoman Empire on Tuesday, 29 May 1453, (and two other Byzantine splinter territories soon thereafter) marked the end of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, an imperial state which had lasted for nearly 1,500 years. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople also dealt a massive blow to Christendom. The Ottomans renamed the Byzantine capital Istanbul, converted its biggest churches to mosque.
Hagia Sophia one of the biggest church in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) was conquered by ottoman Turks in 1453. By that point the church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Today, the church has been turned to a museum and is currently the second most visited museum in Turkey.
When Constantinople (Hagia Sophia) fell in 1453, three years later, the edifice of Church Of The Holy Apostles, which was in a dilapidated state was abandoned by the patriarch and in 1461 it was demolished by the ottomans to make way for the faith mosque.
One thing our pastors and other peddlers of Turkey’s decline in Christian population are ignorant of is that the capture of Constantinople in 1453 ushered in the “iconoclastic era”, during which majority of the Christians in the area abandoned their buildings and migrated to neighboring regions, most of those ancient churches were in decrepit before they were converted.
Captured territories don’t maintain their religions. The captured Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople was not an exception.
Today, however, Turkey has a smaller Christian percentage of its population than any of its neighbors, including Syria, Iraq and even Iran. What made the disparity so obvious was because of the major atrocities and genocide that were committed by the Ottoman government with the support of “Central Powers” against the Christian dominated Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks during the World War I (1914-18) and the subsequent large scale population transfers of Turkey’s Christian population to other regions. This was followed by the continued emigration of most of the remaining indigenous Christians over the next century.
After World War 1, the Turkish War of Independence (1919–22), initiated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his colleagues in Anatolia, defeated and abolished the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922. The defeat allowed the Turkish National Movement Government in Ankara to become the sole governing entity in the nation, officially founding the Republic of Turkey, the next year in 1923 with Kemal Ataturk as its first president.
On assuming office, Ataturk initiated a series of radical reforms in the country’s political, social, and economic life between 1924-1938 that aimed at rapidly transforming Turkey into a modern state.
Today, Turkey is among the few secular nations in the Middle East that respects the secularity of their nation. Just the way it is here in Nigeria, there are always clash of interest in secular states between dominant religions, Turkey is not an exception.
Though there have been great disparity between majority Muslims and minority Christians since the beginning of modern Turkey in 1923, they have been able to manage series of religious crisis within their country without much threat to World peace, unlike Nigeria where we have recorded over 13, 000 deaths in the last 5 years alone in the North East over religious crisis.
If a particular religion is to be blamed for the decline in Christian population in Turkey, who do we blame for the steady decline in Christianity and the dereliction of churches and chapels in Europe and the Americas?
Religious superiority played an important role in World War 1, that explains why a century after, religion seems in many places to have maintained it’s power to exacerbate strife but lost its capacity to calm and restrain it.
According to Philip Jenkins, a distinguished professor of history- The war triggered “a global religious revolution,” and in the process, “drew the World’s religious map as we know it today.”
Here in Nigeria, majority of the Christians have become irreversibly paranoid with the change mantra because their pastors are increasingly of the opinion that a Muslim president will Islamise Nigeria. They are yet to tell us how possible it is for one man to unilaterally bypass the constitution, the legislature, the judiciary and the Nigerian people and impose sharia and Islam on everybody.
I think it’s time we should start educating our pastors and save them from ignorance.
A South East governor has been in the news for the wrong reasons according to report, he built a mosque for Muslims and has been of great help to the Muslim community in his state since he became governor in 2011. When ever news about this particular South East governor appears on social media, the ignorant ones hurl all categories of insults at him, to many he’s promoting Islam in his state, we forget there are Christians even in far North where they have majority Muslims, they don’t worship in the bush, they worship in churches built on land given or approved by Muslim governors, have we thought of what will happen to such Christians if the Muslim governors decide to turn their backs on them? So what is the big deal if a South East governor replicates such gesture?
It hurts to read, watch or hear us bicker and insult one another over mundane and irrelevant issues, these things ought not to be so. What we should be cognizance of as a nation is how to get out of these quagmire we have found ourselves in the past 16 years and to achieve this feat, we all need to come together as one regardless of our ethnic, religious and party affiliations.
History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history–while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance–might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.