I have been sending messages to The Washington Post each day, seeking a correction to that April 9 news feature about Islamists killing priests and missionaries in the city that once was known as Constantinople, the heart of the Byzantine world. You may recall, that's the story that said this concerning the tense state of affairs between Christians and Turks:
The tension dates at least to the 13th century, when Christian Crusaders sacked what is today Istanbul.
"Missionaries and the Crusades are related," Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs declared in a pamphlet published last June.
Now, as the Divine Ms. M first noted, this rather messes up the history of this amazing but troubled city. For, you see, the Western crusaders slaughtered Greek Christians in 1204, not Muslims. Then the Muslims slaughtered the Greek Christians again in 1453, when they claimed the city for Islam. Click here to read an essay on that -- on the website of the Post, of all places.
Over at Beliefnet, our friend Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher of The Dallas Morning News has joined us in this appeal for a correction, in a post with the nice headline "Dog bites man!" Rod connected two particular dots that I had not connected, arguing that the reporter did not simply make a mistake. The error came from a source with a motive.
The WaPo bought propaganda from the Turkish government hook, line and sinker. Incredible. Why do you suppose they did that? The Sack of Constantinople -- Christian versus Christian -- is a basic historical fact.
I believe that it is also important for journalists to remember that the city that is now Istanbul remained a troubled but still vital center for Greek faith and culture long after it was captured in 1453. Here is how I summed up a few basic facts about that reality, in a Scripps Howard column column I filed after visiting the walled compound -- terrorist threats are common -- that includes the home of Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The compound has two gates, and there is a reason for that:
Visitors enter through a door secured by a guardhouse, locks and a metal-screening device. They cannot enter the Phanar's main gate because it was welded shut in 1821 after the Ottoman Turks hanged Patriarch Gregory V from its lintel. The black doors have remained sealed ever since.
A decade ago, bombers who tried to open this gate left a note: "We will fight until the Chief Devil and all the occupiers are chased off; until this place, which for years has contrived Byzantine intrigues against the Muslim people of the East is exterminated. ... Patriarch you will perish!"
The capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet 400,000 Orthodox Christians remained in greater Istanbul early in the 20th century. That number fell to 150,000 in 1960. Today fewer than 2,000 remain, the most symbolic minority in a land that is 99 percent Turkish.
Yes, there are lots of religious news stories to cover in modern Istanbul. I still hope that the Post corrects its error and then asks its reporters in the region to do some more digging.
Should you feel inclined to join our, uh, journalistic crusade, the email address for the newspaper's correction desk is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A personal note: I will be on the road for the next four days or so, headed to some place even hotter than Washington, D.C. That would be my home state of Texas. I will try to post when I can.