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Christians have lived in Turkey for two millennia but their future is uncertain

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: the Turkish government consistently shows contempt for the Christian history and heritage of Asia Minor, and particular disrespect for the rights and prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is still denied property rights and legal identity. Even the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque is now being contemplated. It is no surprise, then, that as this article notes, “the percentage of Christians in Turkey declined from nearly 25% in 1914 to less than 0.5% today.”

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here.

“Christians have lived in Turkey for two millenia [sic] but their future is uncertain,” by Ramazan Kilinc, Νεος Κοσμος, November 23, 2019:

Vowing to better protect Christians, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told media at the White House recently that Turkey will restore churches damaged during the civil war in northeastern Syria.

With this statement, Erdoğan might have hoped to send signals addressing western concerns about the vulnerabilities of Christians in his own country, too. The percentage of Christians in Turkey declined from nearly 25% in 1914 to less than 0.5% today.

As I write in my recent book on religious minorities in Turkey and France, international events and domestic political interests improved the status of Christians in the 2000s.

Yet, the current international and domestic context makes their future uncertain.
Important centre of Christianity

Christians have lived in the region that is modern-day Turkey since the first century when Christianity emerged.

Many Christians escaping persecution in Jerusalem fled north and settled in cities across western, central and southeastern Turkey.

Some of the Christian apostles traveled and even settled in regions in Turkey. These included Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint John. Saint Peter established one of the first Christian Churches and Saint John is said to have taken Virgin Mary to Ephesus, which is two miles southwest of present-day Selçuk in İzmir Province in western Turkey.

Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, and Antioch, modern-day Antakya, in Turkey were two of the five centers of Christianity along with Rome, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Istanbul was long home to the largest cathedral in the world, the Hagia Sophia.

From its construction in the sixth century until the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453, Hagia Sophia served as a religious center for Eastern Christianity and the Byzantine Empire. The grand building became a mosque under the Ottomans and was converted into a museum in 1935 after Turkey became a secular republic.

Today, the Hagia Sophia remains a top destination for Christians and Muslims alike from all over the world….

Christians, though, had an inferior position to Muslims during the Ottoman Empire, and were required to pay a special tax. Compared to religious minorities in Europe, however, Ottoman Christians were treated with tolerance….

In 1942, the Turkish state taxed the non-Muslim minorities with high rates. It deported those who were not able to pay taxes to forced labor camps in eastern Turkey.

In the 1960s, at the height of a dispute with Greece over the status of the island of Cyprus, the Turkish state confiscated some properties owned by non-Muslim community foundations. Later in 1971, it closed down the Theological School of Halki, an important school of Greek Orthodox Christians in the island of Heybeliada in the Sea of Marmara….

Today, conspiracy theories about non-Muslim minorities dominate the public sphere. At the root of these stories, Christians are depicted as collaborators with foreign powers to undermine the Turkish identity.

Andrew Brunson, a U.S. priest who lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was arrested for being a traitor in October 2016 and released only after the U.S. intervened in October 2018.

Debates that are often part of the public conversation such as converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque make Christians feel that their heritage is overlooked.

Turkey is an an important country for the history of Christianity, yet the future of Christian presence in Turkey, I believe, is under threat.

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