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Turks protest against 'creeping Christmas'

Crowd gathers to protest against growing influence of the 'charlatan' Santa, presents and Christmas trees in latest demonstrations in Istanbul
A protester holds a placard reading 'Muslims do not celebrate Christmas' (Twitter/@FuryBlazing)

Despite the approach of Christmas and New Year, some Turks are definitely not in a festive mood.

Protestors have gathered in Istanbul's Maltepe Square holding up placards that read “Musluman noel kutlamaz” (Muslims do not celebrate Christmas) in protest at a Christmas tree in the square.

According to local news sources, activists from the Fatih Generation Youth Education Association were angry that their "sensitivies" as Muslims were not being recognised.

"That charlatan called Santa Claus is the father of Christians!" said one protester named Bulent Gurpinar"We're a nation of the Prophet Muhammad."

Ankarali Jan, a Turkish analyst, said that a number of "Islamic-nationalist" organisations held similar demonstrations each year.

“There's quite a network of small associations composed of grumpy old men," he told Middle East Eye. "Maybe the AKP Youth have also joined in at some stage, too.”

AKP Youth, an activist wing of the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, distributed a flyer in the Western province of Kocaeli advertised a conference to examine the "Christmas threat":

Jan said that the protests reflected concerns from some sectors of society about Western and Christian influences seeping into Turkish society and diluting Islamic culture.

New Year has also been targeted.

“Influenced by Western advertising, some Turkish parents started giving their children presents on New Year,” Jan said, adding that the protests were the reverse of "creeping sharia" protests in Western countries.

In 2014, members of the far-right Grand Unity Party (BBP) staged an anti-New Year demonstration in Bolu province in northwestern Turkey.

While the protest was under way, a man dressed in a Santa Claus costume was chased by a man dressed as an Ottoman soldier.

“People are celebrating to mark the arrival of the new year. We are against Christmas celebrations. We wanted to express this with such an act,” BBP Bolu Provincial Chairman Mahmut Alan was quoted as saying in Today's Zaman after the protest.

This January, the conservative Felicity Party described Santa Claus as "devious and dirty" colonisation project.

The furore has provoked a backlash in some quarters.

Ahmet Hakan, a columnist for the secular-nationalist Hurriyet newspaper, said that he would celebrate New Year in Turkey in 2015 "out of pure spite" for those who wanted to prevent him doing so.

"Why are you so keen to turn an ordinary and lame celebration, persistently, into a clash of civilizations while you are so against the thesis of 'clash of civilizations?'" he wrote. "Why are you so keen to meddling in other people’s lives, while you are so against people meddling in your own life?"

Though Turkey is officially a secular state, 99 percent of the population identify as Muslim, the majority either Sunni or Alevi.

Before the creation of the republic in 1923, there was a large population of Christians on the Anatolian peninsula, composed of Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks.

The Armenian and Assyrian genocides of 1915 wiped out much of Christianity from Turkey, while the population swap between Turkey and Greece saw about 1.5 million Greek Christians expelled from the country.

Today there are thought to be around 150,000 Christians living in Turkey, the largest number believed to be Armenian Apostolic.

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