Turkey: Christians increasingly less free and in the spotlight

Turkey: Christians increasingly less free and in the spotlight


By Lorenza Formicola

For a long time, Turkey has inexorably restricted the living space for Christians. “Although the constitution is not hostile to Christianity,” says Claire Evans, regional director of the International Christian Concern organization.

Christian activities are not illegal according to the Turkish penal code but authorities and foreign pastors and Turkish citizens converted to Christianity are considered without dignity. Christians in Turkey cannot open schools or dedicate themselves to evangelization; religious are often denied entry to the country and residence permits are refused. Not to mention the consecrated and not, forced into exile. The latest news tells that the day after the American pastor Andrew Brunson, another evangelist, was released, the Canadian-American David Byle, was arrested for two years in Turkey. Despite having gone to exile three times in the past, this time he has not managed to escape. After the prison he was forced to leave the country.

In the annual reports on human rights violations, published since 2009, the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches details the systematic discrimination exerted by Turkey against Christians and gives an image of the daily drama they are forced to suffer. It is enough with the previous history to understand the situation. In 2001, after the publication of a report by the National Intelligence Organization, the National Security Council declared that missionary activities were a “threat to security” and decreed that “precautions must be taken against their destructive activities.”

In 2004, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) stated in a report that “the activities of the missionaries provoke ethnic and religious separatist aspirations and aim at the unitary structure of the State.” In 2005, Minister of State Mehmet Aydin wrote: “We believe that Christian [missionary] activities are aimed at destroying historical, religious, national and cultural unity … they are seen as an extremely planned movement with political objectives.” In 2006, the Turkish armed forces (TSK) in a monthly magazine referred to Christian missionaries as a threat and demanded laws to prevent their activity. In the same year, Ali Bardakoğlu, then head of Diyanet (the government’s religious affairs directorate) denounced on television the “necessary duty” of Diyanet to warn people about missionaries and other movements that “threaten society.”

If Christians in Turkey are an organization comparable to a terrorist organization, then it is normal that their fate is made up of denunciations, nightmares and bitter condemnations. In 2006, Kamil Kiroğlu, a Muslim converted to Christianity, was killed by five men who offered him an escape. “Deny Jesus or we’ll kill you now,” while another shouted: “We do not want Christians in this country.” Also in 2006, Father Andrea Santoro, a 61-year-old Catholic priest, was killed while he was praying at the church of Santa Maria in Trebizond. Five months later, a 74-year-old priest, Father Pierre François René Brunissen, was stabbed in Samsun. The motive was made known immediately: the priests deserved to die for their “missionary activities”. The list of those who have suffered the same infamous fate is really long. When Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, was assassinated in June 2010, there was only one shout to cover the pain of the bishop, “Allahu Akbar”. His driver at the trial justified the murder by saying that the bishop was a “false messiah”.

However, Christians in Turkey are not a new but today they are only a tiny and disintegrated reality that has given birth to Saint Paul, Saint Luke, Ephraim, Polycarp, Timothy, Saint Nicholas and Saint Ignatius. The Bible is full of episodes that have as background Asia Minor, part of contemporary Turkey, as well as Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks were among the first nations to embrace the Christian faith. It was in Antioch where the faithful were called “Christians” for the first time in history, and Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul, built in the sixth century, was the largest church in the world before the Turks converted it into a mosque in 1453. Today, about 0.2% of the Turkish population of almost 80 million inhabitants is Christian. The motive that crosses the centuries is certainly Islam and its vision of the kafir, the infidels. The Koranic doctrine that hates and judges them as “Satan’s friends” and admits that they are robbed, murdered, tortured, raped, ridiculed, cursed and condemned.

Surely the difference between Turkey and the rest of the world lies in the fact that national identity is based mainly on religious identity. It means that a Turk is Turkish if he is Muslim. Since being Islamic is something that invades every aspects of public and private life, even eating habits are imposed by the State, the Turks think that in their history there is nothing to be ashamed of: they would be ashamed of themselves. The Turks do not feel close to Europe or to the Middle East, they feel close only to themselves. The hatred for Christianity also arises from the widespread fear, on the verge of paranoia, that Christians through proselytism aim to recover the lands that were theirs before the Ottoman conquest. The alarming reports are so widespread that they claim that 10% of the entire Turkish population will be Christian  in 2020.

Although a million and a half Armenians have been exterminated during the Ottoman Empire in 1915, Turkey still refuses to recognize the Armenian genocide and is furious every time someone affirms this historical truth. Two main reasons. From the point of view of identity, recognizing genocide would mean accepting that the founding fathers of Turkey are murderers, and of the worst kind. From a more concrete point of view, the term genocide, a neologism invented by the jurist Rafael Lemkin to describe what happened to the Armenians, has a legal value: it never prescribes, even after 100 years, and it gives the victims the right to ask a compensation for what has been lost and also for everything that has been expropriated. The genocide of Armenian Christians today is no longer a nightmare, but a daily reality for Christians.


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