Sunday, September 06, 2015

Death threats target Turkey's Protestants

Fifteen Turkish Protestant congregations and their leaders have been targeted since 27 Aug. by a strident campaign of death threats sent to their Facebook, email, websites and mobile telephones.
The threats followed the style and jargon typically used by the so-called Islamic State (IS), vowing to kill, massacre and behead apostates who the messages accused of having “chosen the path that denies Allah” and “dragged others into believing as you do… As heretics you have increased your numbers with ignorant followers”.
“Threats are not anything new for the Protestant community who live in this country and want to raise their children here,” the Association of Protestant Christians in Turkey said in a press release on 1 Sept. “But with the recent increase in systematic threats, from this country’s west to east and north to south, in different cities, we think that these messages, coming close together and resembling each other, are coming from the same source.”
A copy of one message seen by World Watch Monitor displayed the IS flag and called itself “those who go to jihad”. It warned: “Perverted infidels, the time that we will strike your necks is soon. May Allah receive the glory and praise.”
Most of the messages included a direct quote from the Al-Ahzab chapter of the Quran, which threatens “those who spread false news… Accursed, they shall be seized wherever found and killed with a horrible slaughter.”
A link was also posted for an Arabic video subtitled in Turkish on YouTube entitled, “The religious proofs why apostates should be killed”.
One pastor attacked over both email and SMS messages told World Watch Monitor, “They are saying things like they had been waiting for us to return to Islam, and that we are responsible for other Muslims turning to Christ, that our time is up and that Allah will give them our heads”.
The majority of Turkish Protestant congregations are former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. In contrast to most Muslim-majority nations, Turkish citizens have the legal right to change their religious identity or leave blank the religion column on their IDs.
Church leaders who received the messages were encouraged by the association to notify the police and public prosecutors in their local area regarding the threats.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Man sets Orthodox church on fire in Istanbul with Molotov cocktail

An unidentified man set Aya Triada Orthodox Church on fire in Istanbul's Kadıköy district on late Tuesday evening with a Molotov cocktail. Below is a video taken by a bystander showing the man setting fire to the church. Details of the incident were not clear, the man was detained by police shortly after and the fire was quickly extinguished. The man in the video is heard saying, 'I will revenge the al-Aqsa mosque'.
The next day, hundreds of protesters marched against this attack, demonstrating solidarity with Christians and other oppressed groups.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Turkey’s Christian minority sends four deputies to parliament

Turkey’s Christian minority will be represented in the Turkish parliament in greater number after a long absence as four members of the community will become deputies after the June 7 elections. 

The results of the parliamentary election, one of the most critical and closely fought in years, ended the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year one-party rule, while also propelling four members of the Christian minority to the legislature.

Markar Esayan, an Armenian-Turkish journalist for the pro-AKP daily Yeni Şafak, entered the parliament on an AKP ticket as the 12th candidate from Istanbul’s second election area.

Selina Doğan, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was elected as the first deputy candidate from the second election area of the CHP’s Istanbul list. Doğan, who is of Armenian origin, practices law as an attorney.

CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said while introducing Doğan as a candidate that her candidacy was an important message for the world.

“We do not want division in this society. We want to grow and develop together,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in early April.

Two Christians will also enter parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) ticket, one from Istanbul and the other from the southeastern province of Mardin.

Garo Paylan, who ran for parliament as the second nominee from the HDP’s third election area in Istanbul, holds Armenian roots and is listed as a trainer on the Supreme Election Board (YSK) candidate list.

Erol Dora, who is a member of Turkey’s Syriac community and a lawyer, was the HDP’s third deputy candidate from Mardin and an incumbent in the legislature.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Turkish Mall Scraps Plans for Jewish, Christian Prayer Rooms After ‘Attacks’

A recently opened furniture mall in western Turkey scrapped plans to open separate prayer rooms for Jews and Christians over a series of “intolerant attacks,” Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported on Friday.
Haluk Ozbek, founder of the Mobiliyum AVM furniture emporium in the Inegol district about 155 miles south of Istanbul, said original plans sought to make the mall a global attraction.
“But we have been subject to ugly and incomprehensible attacks” over the inclusion of Christian and Jewish worship rooms, in addition to the mosque that was constructed.
“Mobiliyum AVM has been exposed to ugly attacks via the media as well as by action. We have decided to reverse our decision to open prayer rooms, as we have lacked support from democratic circles against these attacks,” said Ozbek, in a statement published by Hurriyet.
He also told the newspaper that the attacks were caused by a lack of tolerance.


A large rally in Istanbul demanded the government change the historic Hagia Sophia church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque. The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) led the rally through the Sultanahmet district.
Many people carried signs that said, “Hagia Sophia needs to be reopened as a mosque” and “Let our lives be sacrificed for Islam.”
The idea to change the church into a mosque begun to gain momentum in April after Pope Francis recognized the slaying of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. Liam Deacon at Breitbart London chronicled the history of Hagia Sophia. The Ottoman Empire did convert the church into a mosque in 1453. After the empire fell, the new Turkish government transformed it into a secular museum.
“Frankly, I believe that the Pope’s remarks will only accelerate the process for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for [Muslim] worship,” Professor Hizli, a senior government cleric,said in a written statement on April 15th.
He decried the Pope’s comments as a “modern reflection of the crusader wars launched in these lands for centuries,” and suggested that Turkey’s role as a “standard bearer” for the Muslim world provoked criticism from non-Muslims.
The latest blow was using the church to celebrate Islam during Easter holy week.
“The historic Istanbul cathedral and museum, Hagia Sophia, witnessed its first Quran recitation under its roof after 85 years Saturday,” reported the Anatolian News Agency of Turkey. “The Religious Affairs Directorate launched the exhibition ‘Love of Prophet,’ as part of commemorations of the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Church Plant in Turkey Seeks to Sidestep Dangers

First century churches in what is now modern Turkey met mostly in homes, but Christians in the country today find they run more risks meeting in their living space than in public buildings.
A Turkish pastor said Christians in towns along the Black Sea coast cannot meet in their apartments without raising suspicions from Muslim neighbors. In Samsun, in what was once the Roman province of Pontus to which the Apostle Peter addressed believers in 1 Peter 1:1, Pastor Matta (full name withheld for security reasons) and a colleague planted a church 13 years ago as they were simultaneously seeking to plant churches in Ordu and other towns along the Black Sea coast.
When they began making trips to Ordu, 93 miles east of Samsun, to disciple former Muslims, Pastor Matta and a colleague initially ministered primarily in parks. Turks are highly relational, conversational and hospitable, Pastor Matta said, but the same relational bent that opens opportunities for gospel proclamation also makes it hard for those who have embraced Christ to meet for worship among their Muslim neighbors. Far from the isolated, private space of many Western nations, apartment homes in Turkey are a tightly woven neighborhood tapestry.
In a country where many see Christians as foreign spies or national traitors, that can be a problem for forming house fellowships.
"There's a great fear of small groups in homes – they are always under suspicion of nasty things developing that will damage the community," Pastor Matta said. "Anyone with a different message is considered a foreigner and doesn't easily fit in. If they have Bible studies in their homes, they lose their jobs, the families reject them, and there's the risk that the children would be dismissed from their schools."
Schools in Turkey have been known to invent technicalities as grounds for expelling students whose parents have been found to have left Islam. With a population of just under 196,000, Ordu is a small city where it is difficult to be anonymous, Pastor Matta said. Thankfully, he said, new Christians there have no qualms about attending worship meetings in a public space.
"The reason we had to rent a place to meet is that many of the believers couldn't just invite us to their homes," he said. "We noticed a lot of interest in learning about the gospel message, but lots of fear of having us tell them in their homes. We ministered mostly in the parks, away from their homes, but in the winter time, that's impossible due to the cold weather."
The fellowship has grown to 31 people, mostly Iranian refugees, along with eight Turks, one Armenian with Turkish citizenship and three Georgians. Pastor Matta visits the Ordu church once a week to preach and develop a local leader to preside over the fellowship. He also travels weekly to Amasya and Sinop to preach Christ.

In Ordu, he and his co-worker made initial contacts through responses to his church website and by offering New Testaments in newspaper ads.
"When addresses came to us, we would visit them," he said. "We would ask God to help turn the conversation to His truth. As we prayed before visiting, the answer would come as God put us with interested people."

Turkey: new Christian TV channel makes the news

The recent launch of SAT-7 TÜRK, the latest addition to SAT-7's now five-strong stable of Christian satellite TV stations broadcasting across the Middle East, has achieved wall-to-wall coverage across the Turkish broadcast and print media.
The SAT-7 TÜRK website also received well over extra 100,000 visits after a prime-time interview on CNN Türk (12 May). 
CNN Türk was the first to invite SAT-7 TÜRK Executive Director Melih Ekener onto its news show and the story was followed up by TV news channel KANAL D and three national newspapers.

CNN asked Mr Ekener why SAT-7 was established in Turkey and what programmes it broadcast. He answered that SAT-7 was already a major satellite network broadcasting across the Middle East, so a station in Turkey was a logical next step.

"For 2000 years Christians have lived in the region," Ekener explained, "but in more recent times, this culture has disappeared and many of these people have left. SAT-7's aim is to explain the Christian faith in the region and to give a voice to the Christians that still live here."

CNN viewers heard how programmes included special church services, worship and teaching, as well as Christian-themed films, documentaries, weekly news and lifestyle shows.

Conscious of the suspicions Christians often face in Turkey, Melih said, "A lot of things are said about the Christian faith and the Christian minority but SAT-7 TÜRK is a place where Christians can correct the misunderstandings that exist about the Christian faith, answer the questions and address the curiosity people have. We want to show that we are just normal people and television is a good vehicle for doing this!"
At the same time, he said, "It also seeks to encourage Christians who feel isolated, for example, by enabling them to watch a worship service on Sunday morning and hear teaching from their favourite pastors and teachers."

Melih added that the opportunity to broadcast SAT-7 TÜRK is a very positive sign that "things in Turkey are changing as we develop and progress our democratic values. This might have been a little slow in coming, but it is happening. Our channel is a step forward – a good step."

After the interview, Melih commented: "I was very pleased that the tone was neither hostile nor sarcastic". Since SAT-7 TÜRK began broadcasting on 14 February, Valentine's Day, he said the channel itself has experienced hardly any negative feedback.

"Although we are a Christian station we hope to appeal across religious and ethnic divides, being a focus to bring unity, love and peace to Turkey".

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Turkish authorities ask tiny Christian community to help Yezidi refugees

As a Turkish Christian, Ender Peker is used to facing hostility from religious Muslims, particularly because he lives in Turkey’s conservative southeast. So he was shocked last fall when an imam asked him to take over food distribution at a nearby refugee camp.
"He said to me, 'I want you to talk to them and distribute food to them.' He was glad to give me this responsibility," Peker told World Watch Monitor.
The "them" the imam referred to are Iraqi Yezidis. As a monotheistic religion that includes elements of ancient Iranian religions, Christianity and Islam, Yezidis are so unorthodox that most Muslims have traditionally derided them as "devil worshippers." So when, along with other Iraqis fleeing Islamic State attacks, traumatized Yezidis escaped to Turkey last summer in the thousands, they were afraid to live among Iraqi Muslims in refugee camps set up by the Turkish national government.
So the Diyarbakir Protestant Church stepped in to help the Yezidis soon after they arrived, many living in a city park. The local government placed others in empty schools or municipal buildings. Church members visited them, donating blankets and food.
In August the Church helped the local government establish the first Yezidi refugee camp in a former airplane hangar. Members donated 50 large tents that had been used for its summer church camps.
This opportunity was an unexpected one for such a small Turkish church with only 65 members. But it began a process of reconciliation between the tiny Protestant community and local authorities who had been mistrustful of it, and even hostile in the recent past
"They thought we would come to offer aid, but then leave just as quickly. We stayed. They complimented us, that we did what we said we would do," Peker said.
Peker is one of a group of foreign and Turkish Christians providing substantial, ongoing aid to Yezidis. Nearly all their relief efforts are channeled through Diyarbakir Protestant Church, a hub for evangelical Christianity in the region. Led by Pastor Ahmet Guvener, the church has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from Turkish and foreign churches to help refugees.
Yezidis initially rebuffed help from government workers in Turkey, due to their lingering trauma from Islamic State attacks. In July 2014 the IS jihadists attacked their historical home of Mt. Sinjar in northern Iraq, where thousands of Iraqi men, women and children of the Yezidi religion have been killed, raped and enslaved. The extremists regard Yezidis as infidels who, according to Islamic law, should be killed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Türksat 4A to air SAT-7 TÜRK

There’s “miraculous” news coming out of the Middle East: Christian programming will now be aired on government-regulated Turkish television.
The Türksat 4A is Turkey’s most popular satellite, reaching over 50 million viewers. Starting this year, shows produced by SAT-7 — a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa — will be aired on the first and only Türksat 4A Christian channel.
Until now, SAT-7 TÜRK has only shared satellite time on other SAT-7 channels. More recently, it began broadcasting 24/7 on the Internet, reaching a quite limited audience.
“We are overwhelmed and truly believe it is a miracle that we can finally broadcast on Türksat,” says Melih Ekener, Executive Director of SAT-7 TÜRK.
Christianity has deep roots in Turkey’s history. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked, and many people have been fed misinformation and carry misperceptions about Christ, Christianity, and its important influence in early Turkish history.
(Logo courtesy of SAT-7 TURK via Facebook)
(Logo courtesy of SAT-7 TURK via Facebook)
Ekener says a mere 150,000 Christians remain in Turkey today. A TV channel made for Turkish Christians, by Turkish Christians, wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.
“For those who do not know the context and history of Turkey, this might not come across as a historic moment, but it really is,” notes Ekener.
“This shows how much Turkey has changed and, even in the midst of often disturbing news we read about Turkey, there are some great things going on.”
The government played an important role, Ekener adds.
“This would not have been possible without the Turkish authorities taking the time and interest to engage with Christians and accept our applications, granting us a frequency on the official state satellite,” he explains.
“We praise God for this moment. We rejoice in the decision of the Turkish authorities and join all Turkish Christians in giving thanks for this historic development.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Turkish Christians assist Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees are in the fight for their lives in Turkey. The Islamic State has forced thousands from their homes. Now they’re trying to survive in camps in snow and subfreezing temperatures.

International Needs Turkey Director Behnan Konutgan is with the refugees handing out warm clothing. “It’s 6 degrees centigrade below zero (21 Fahrenheit).” And it’s snowing.

The needs are great, Konutgan says. And while “the evangelical church [in Turkey] is very small, [they] have done marvelous things for the refugees. They are welcomed by the local authorities. They respect the churches, and they welcome us very well.”

It’s strange, because Turkey is predominately Muslim.

Konutgan says these refugees were stuck in the mountains without food or water. “When I say that this support comes from the churches, they say, “Ah ha! Because of the churches, we are safe.”

The stories from the mountains are horrible. One woman told Konutgan that some of women didn’t want to see their children suffer, so they threw them off the mountains to their death.

Another woman told him that she had given her daughters to a Saudi man and gave him $50. He said he would take care of them until after the conflict was over. She hasn’t heard from the man and believes her daughters were kidnapped.

Christians are meeting the refugees in their despair, providing hope found in Christ alone. You can help, too.

Konutgan says the refugees want to know about Jesus. And in the midst of tragedy, God is working. “They hear the Bible, so this is a good opportunity for the Gospel. I’m sure they will come to Christ Jesus. There are thousands of people among them who secretly say they love Jesus.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Turkish religious thinker ponders future of Islam

In an article on Dec. 28, Gultekin went beyond the Erdogan-Gulen acrimony and raised a more basic question: Why have Muslims failed so spectacularly for 1,400 years to establish just, prosperous and peaceful societies? In the article, Gultekin challenged those Muslims who fall back on the tired excuse of “but this isn’t real Islam” when confronted with extremist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. “Which one is real Islam?” he asked, and lamented how “as people’s religiosity increased [in recent years], so have their sinfulness.”
“The problem,” Gultekin said, was not Islam but “our inability to understand the religion in the context of the 21st century.” And he warned, “Unless we find a way out, we will destroy ourselves.”
“Islam never practiced what it preached,” he said. The only exception, he argued, occurred for a short period under the second caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), who he said achieved social peace and good governance by ignoring the most draconian elements of the Quran. When Islam mixed with politics and dynastic disputes later on under “Ali, Aisha, Uthman, [t]he Umayyads, the Ottomans, etc., [it] lost its purpose.”

For Gultekin, the parallels with present-day Turkey are unmistakable. “Take Fethullah Gulen,” he said. “He studied the Quran for 40 years, read the hadiths and was cultivated in Islamic manners, yet that did not stop him from committing injustice against other people. Or [take] Tayyip Erdogan. He was raised with Islamic discipline for 40 years — on values such as haram, halal, fear of God — but we can all see where that has taken him. Now people ask, ‘If religion cannot make these men honest and moral, how is it going to [help] us?’”
“So, do you think ascending to power has stained the Islamist movement?” I asked. Gultekin corrected me, saying, “Gaining power has not stained Islamism — it has destroyed Islamism. Islamism has nothing to give to society anymore because Islamists have nothing left to say.”
Read more:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Turkey's Protestants complain of discrimination, harassment

While barbaric attacks such as the one on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo raise concerns of Islamist extremism and sometimes spark Islamophobia in the West, Turkey's tiny Protestant community is reporting intolerance toward Christians.
The Union of Protestant Churches, the umbrella organization for all Protestant denominations in Turkey, published its "Rights Violations Report 2014" on Jan. 7 on its website. The document contained a long list of incidents of harassment and discrimination faced by church members throughout Turkey in the past year.

Fortunately, it lists no assassinations and murders. Yet, still there are various hate crimes that reflect bigotry against Christians on a societal level. Examples include threats to local churches and small-scale attacks such as suspected arson or the breaking of windows. There are also cases of humiliation and threats to converts from Islam to Christianity. Missionary work, in particular, was met with hostility, as Protestants faced threats while trying to share their faith.

Some of these threats came from ordinary citizens, but there are cases of official harassment as well. In Izmir, for example, a group of Protestants was detained briefly for engaging in "missionary activity," which is actually not banned by Turkish law, yet is still widely opposed. In another incident during Christmas in Antalya, the police confiscated Bibles from a Protestant booth.

Most probably, none of these incidents reflect a policy decided at higher levels. They rather seem to reflect a societal intolerance that influences policymakers in a bottom-up fashion, and the report notes that nuance. First, it lists numerous occasions in which the Protestants' reasonable demands to establish places of worship, proclaim their faith or celebrate their holy days such as Christmas were rejected by mayors or other local administrators in various parts of Turkey, from Istanbul to the southeast. These rejections, the report argues, are mainly caused by local politicians worrying over losing votes and "local administrators' unwillingness to be seen as 'those who allow the building of churches.'"

To understand the deeper dynamics of the problem, Al-Monitor spoke to Umut Sahin, the secretary-general of the Union of Protestant Churches and himself a Protestant convert. Sahin cited some facts about his community. There are currently some 50,000 Protestants in Turkey, he said, but most of them are expatriates from the West. Native Turkish Protestants, he added, number only about 5,000 individuals, nearly all converts. Some 4,000 of these are converts from Islam, while the remaining 1,000 are converts from Eastern churches, such as the Armenian Church.

One fundamental problem, Sahin argued, is that while the Turkish government recognizes traditionally established communities — such as the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic or Syriac churches — it does not recognize the Protestants. "No wonder," he said, "we were not invited to the meeting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had with non-Muslim leaders on Jan. 2." Apparently, because the Protestants are largely recent expats and converts, unlike the historically established churches, it makes them somehow less legitimate in the eyes of the authorities.

What is it, exactly, that threatens the Protestants of Turkey? Is it Islam or Turkish nationalism, sometimes overlapping yet still distinct forces?

Sahin responded with a history lesson, saying, "Turkish Christians became publicly visible in the aftermath of the great earthquake in 1999." This, he noted, was the first time Christians, especially Protestants, came out to organize charities for the victims of the disaster, which killed tens of thousands and left many others homeless. But the authorities, ever suspicious of civic groups, saw their work as a threat to the nation's unity. Hence, in 2001, "missionary activity" was defined as a national threat by the National Security Council, which was dominated by Turkey's secularist (and very nationalist) generals.

In the next six years, Turkey's Christians suffered a series of bloody attacks inspired, at least at the ideological level, by the ultranationalist ideology that some hard-line generals supported. That is probably why Sahin spoke positively about the Ergenekon trials, which began in 2007 and put hundreds of ultranationalists, including some retired generals, in jail. The dominance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) over that old guard was good news for Christians, Sahin argued.

Yet he said the AKP era, too, began to lose its charm after 2011, when the governing party initiated a growing anti-Western discourse. Turkey's Christians are Turkish, not Western, yet still they are easily brushed aside by Occidentalist narratives that depict the Christian West as the enemy of Muslims. This rhetoric appears almost daily in Turkey's pro-AKP media, discomfiting Turkey's non-Muslims.

In short, it can be said that anti-Christian bigotry in Turkey is deeply rooted, and its nationalist roots probably go even deeper than its Islamist ones. Granted, the AKP offered a breath of fresh air during its battle with old nationalist guard. But to establish full religious freedom, the AKP should challenge and defeat the bigotry in its own Islamist base, rather than surfing it to advance a self-serving anti-Western discourse.

Read more:

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Turkey gives green light for new church, but Christians are wary

Barely a month after Pope Francis’ Nov. 28-30 visit to Turkey, in which the pontiff pushed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on religious freedom, the government has given a green light to build a Christian church for the first time in almost a century.
The only problem is, Turkey’s Christians have been down this road before.
The announcement was made Jan. 2 by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after a three-hour meeting with Turkish religious leaders in Istanbul. Davutoglu reportedly said, “We do not consider any religious or cultural tradition as an outsider.”
The permission applies to a new church structure for Turkey’s burgeoning Syriac Christian community, most of whom are refugees fleeing ISIS forces in their home nation. The cost for the project is estimated at $1.5 million.
Syriac-speaking Christians compromise several traditions within Eastern Christianity, united by the use of a language related to Aramaic, the tongue that Bible scholars believe was spoken by Jesus.
Davutoglu said the permit to build a new church, which he called a “first” since the creation of the Turkish republic in 1923, is important “in the context of equal citizenship.”
Since becoming an official secular state, Turkey would sometimes grant permits for existing churches to be expanded or remodeled, but not to build new ones.
More than 20,000 Syriac Christians live in Istanbul. Without any official church of their own, the parishioners worship in rented Catholic buildings located throughout the city.

Although Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey may have contributed to the breakthrough, there’s a long way to go for this announcement to become a clear sign of an improvement for the day-to-day reality of Turkey’s Christian population.
The building of a church for Syriac Christians was first announced in 2011, when after two years of tussling and hairsplitting, the community secured approval from Erdoğan, who at the time was prime minister, and then-President Abdullah Gül.
Both in 2011 and this time around, when the announcements were made of approval for the building project, no location was disclosed other than the general neighborhood.
In 2012, Istanbul’s city government granted the Syriac Orthodox a plot to build a house of worship, but the Christians rejected the offer on the grounds that the allotted property was a Catholic cemetery and should be returned to its rightful owner.
They insisted on a separate plot to build the church, but no offer was ever forthcoming. As a result, the church was never built, making some Christians in Turkey skeptical that things will be different this time.
Turkey’s Syriac Orthodox population is rapidly growing as a result of the more than 1 million Syrian refugees that are currently in Istanbul and other metropolitan areas waiting for a permanent relocation outside of Muslim-majority country.
Turkey’s constitution protects the right to freedom of belief, the right not to believe in anything, and the right to change one’s belief.
In practice, however, those who profess a religion different from the Sunni Islam patronized by the state are often discriminated against when looking for a job, applying to a school, or running for public office. The Turkish ID card includes religion as personal information, so each person’s religious affiliation is a matter of public knowledge.
Minority rights and religious freedom are one of several sticking points in negotiations with the European Union about Turkey becoming a member.
The closure of the Orthodox seminary of Halki since 1971 has become a symbol of the difficulties still to be overcome, and is often cited by Human Rights observers as religious freedom indicator.
Halki was once among the most important centers of learning and culture in the Orthodox world, and its closure seriously limits the ability of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to shape new generations of clergy.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Turkey permits first new church in 90 years

Not exactly true, as local governments have approved church buildings, but still an interesting turn of events:

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has authorized the building of the first church in the country since the end of the Ottoman empire in 1923, AFP has learned.

The church is for the country’s tiny Syriac community and will be built in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches.

“It is the first since the creation of the republic,” a government source told AFP Saturday. 

“Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now,” he added. 

Turkey, which once had large Christian minorities, is now 99 percent Muslim, and critics of the ruling party AKP have accused it of trying to Islamicize its officially secular society.

However, as part of its bid to join the European Union Amlara has made efforts to widen minority rights and return some seized property and restore churches, monasteries and synagogues.

The country’s ancient Syriac minority, which now numbers less than 20,000, live mostly in the southeast, and tend to be either Orthodox or Catholic.

The church will be built on land given by the local council and paid for by a Syriac group, the government spokesman, who asked not to be named, said.