On April 18, 2007, five young Muslims broke into a Bible publishing office in Malatya, eastern Turkey, and demanded that three Christians pray the Islamic prayer of conversion. When the men refused, the interrogators tortured them and slit their throats. Necati Aydin, pastor of a church in Malatya, and Tilmann Geske, a German missionary, were pronounced dead on the scene. Ugur Yüksel died later during surgery.
Malatya (Voice of the Martyrs) is a feature-length documentary directed by Nolan Dean, who spent several months in Turkey in 2008. Featuring interviews with the widows of Aydin and Geske as well as members of Aydin's church and pastors of other Turkish churches, Malatya offers a close-up of Christianity's precarious position in Muslim-majority Turkey, and a window into how Christians grieve for those who die for the faith. (Dean apparently faced no barriers or resistance during filming.)
Turkey is officially a secular state, but over 98 percent of its 72 million citizens are Muslim. Experts estimate that fewer than 200,000 (0.3 percent) are Christian, but that number is growing by as much as 3 percent annually. Malatya suggests that the murders were motivated by anger over the men's conversion from Islam to Christianity, a religion that many Muslims perceive as poisonous, especially in light of the Crusades. Several interviewees claimed that this viewpoint is propagated in the mainstream media and taught in schools, but the filmmakers do not provide evidence to support the claim.
And that's where Malatya falls short: It never really delves into Turkey's complex cultural, ethnic, and religious issues, thus missing a great educational opportunity. It spends over an hour telling the story of the martyrs; while they certainly deserve to be eulogized, the lack of cultural analysis weakens the film.
The most compelling elements come near Malatya's end; namely, the way in which Semse Aydin and Susanne Geske mourn their husbands' deaths. A watching world may think the men gave too much for Christ, but through tears these women proclaim that there's no such thing as giving too much for the Savior of the world. It's a powerful testimony to the profound theological differences between the men who killed and the men who died.
Annie Young Frisbie is a CT movies critic and blogs at SuperfastReader.com.
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