Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey in 2006 had expected to generate tolerance [EPA]

Christians in Turkey are living under a shadow of fear and insecurity due to a violent backlash by nationalist hardliners.

The minority group consists of around 120,000 practising Christians, and while they are legally free to practise their religion, many say they suffer discrimination and persecution.

Orhan Picaklar, a Christian pastor, says he has faced the ire of the hardliners for his missionary preachings.

Towns like Samsun, in the Black Sea region, where Picalkar practises Christianity, have traditionally been conservative, nationalistic, religious and filled with a core of angry young men who have a deep-seated aversion to being told to change their ways.

Picaklar was kidnapped recently by members of a conservative youth body who told him they wanted him to stop his missionary teachings.

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Turkey's unsafe Christians

"Our church was stoned, they tried to kidnap my son, they did kidnap me, they put our pictures on YouTube, they spoke to all our friends, bosses and relatives of everyone who come to our church, so as to distance them from us," Picalkar said.

"They say we have prostitutes in the church, they blame us for being subversive elements."

Despite being provided with police protection, Picaklar still fears for his life and says that his telephone conversations are being tapped.

He says national fundamentalists have threatened his friends and relatives in the past and even attacked the church where he preaches.

Violent attacks against Christian missionaries in the country has frightened many pastors and their families to the extent that they prefer not to go outdoors.

Accused of opening churches without having a sizeable congregation, channeling funds for western powers and implanting agents in the region, the missionaries are at on receiving end of hardliners who believe them to be representatives of western powers with a single agenda to undermine Islam.

Historic hatred

Mistrust and hatred of Christianity has been embedded in the culture of the Black Sea region of Turkey for decades, some say centuries.

It dates back to the days of the 'crusades' and the First World War when the Christian minority in Turkey sided against the then Ottoman empire.

As a result anyone being seen to pushing Christianity is basically considered as trying to take Turkey away from the Turkish people, once again.

Recent attacks on Christians in Turkey have been very ferocious, including the torture and killing of a group of missionaries in the town of Malatya.

Three youths currently face trial on charges relating to those attacks, but despite the arrests, Christians in Turkey remain concerned about their safety and well-being.

Claims of subversion

The church claim it is the youth wing of Turkey's hardline nationalist party which promotes the attacks.

However, representatives of the nationalist party told Al Jazeera that any form of violence against Christians was absolutely wrong, though they also suggest that Christians could be working for western powers to undermine Islam.

Gokhan Ozekin of the 'Alperen Houses' youth movement told Al Jazeera that Christian missionaries have specific aims for the region and could be a cover for agents in Turkey.

He says many believe that the churches are simply fronts for intelligence agencies such as the CIA and Mossad and that they are working to undermine Turkey rather than serving as shelters for Christians under seige.

Source: Al Jazeera