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How Turkey Eradicated Its Christian Minorities

This summary article refers to the genocide of Armenian and Chaldean Assyrian Christians; the Ottoman government and the successor Turkish state pursued the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians and 300,000 Assyrians. Over 1,000,000 Greek Orthodox Christians were also massacred in the Ottoman Empire during the period of the Greek Genocide in the early twentieth century, the history of which is detailed extensively in an important book, The Thirty-Year Genocide by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi (Harvard University Press).  Hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly converted to Islam. To this day, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge this atrocity as a genocide.

As we continue to see the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our Mother Church of Constantinople suffering from religious persecution, we remember these horrifying events, note with sorrow the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere today, and pray that such inhumanity will never again be seen anywhere in the world.

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

“How Turkey Eradicated Its Christian Minorities,” by Rami Dabbas, Israel Today, May 19, 2021:

Christians represented 20 percent of the Turkish population at the beginning of the 20th century, but by today their number have decreased to a mere 0.2 percent.

The first Assyrians arrived in Armenia in 1805 from Turkey and Persia, a process that accelerated significantly in 1828 and between 1915-1918.

What caused this migration? What is the situation of Christian minorities in Turkey compared to in Armenia?

There was a time when Christian communities resided in what is now modern Turkey, but that time has ended. In more recent times, the lives of Christians in this part of the Middle East have been a never-ending series of dramas. There were moments of prosperity, but also episodes of official efforts to eradicate Christians and their history. Consequently, the number of local Christians decreased dramatically.

Overall, the number of Christians in Turkey today does not exceed 100,000 people, out of a population of some 84 million. Christian schools are in sharp decline and we read regularly about the confiscation of church property. Of course, the whole world is aware of the recent decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to officially change the iconic and historical Hagia Sophia church into a mosque.

But that was only the latest in a string of political and religious disturbances that characterized the 20th and early 21st centuries. What really got the ball rolling was that 1915 genocide of Armenian and Chaldean Assyrian that brought an abrupt end to the influential presence of Christians in the country….

Starting in 1906 there was a movement to homogenize the Ottoman Empire and eliminate all non-Turkish and non-Muslim populations. Populist rhetoric gave way to action in 1915, and by the end of the war in 1918, the deed had been done.

And it was nothing short of ethnic cleansing. Churches were ransacked and desecrated, old men, some and children were killed, while countless others suffered from disease or starvation or were forced into exile. Young Christian girls were harassed and enslaved. All of this has been well documented in the native tongue of these peoples, Aramaic, incidentally the very same language spoken 2,000 years earlier by Jesus….

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