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Turkey is Growing Less Tolerant Toward Christians

Although the trends in Turkey are moving in the opposite direction, the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reiterates our hope that the international human rights community will finally direct its attention to the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of all Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey, and that the Turkish government will ultimately heed the repeated calls to grant justice to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and grant full religious freedom to its embattled Christian minority.

“The Ottoman Cross: Update on Religious Freedom in Turkey,” by Colton Grellier and Alyssa Heisey, International Christian Concern, July 23, 2019:

Turkey, for over a millennium, has been the bridge between the European West and the Middle East. Just to the west is Greece, one of the cradles of Christianity, and to the south and east lie nations hallmarked by the presence of Islam since the days of the Crusades. Ideologically, Turkey has also been a middle ground of toleration between Western liberalism and orthodox Islamic thought. But with the rise of President Erdogan and his political party, Turkey has slowly pulled away from the historic center between East and West.

On June 27, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing on Capitol Hill concerning Turkish religious freedom. Among those who testified were Mustafa Akyol of Cato Institute and Turkish studies expert Lisel Hintz. Both of them painted a picture of the worsening condition of religious tolerance in Turkey. According to Akyol, “Regarding religious freedom, the scene is not that dark, but not very bright either.” He pointed out that from around 2002-2012, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially pushed forward reform leading to more freedom, where “Non-Muslims gained more access to government and also become more visible in public.”  However, following this period, the AKP eventually became “a parochial, paranoid and authoritarian party which sees conspiracies by the West and its imagined fifth columns under every stone.” This extends even now to an individual level. In her own testimony, Lisel Hintz went so far as to say that now, “To be a good Turk, you have to be not just a Muslim, but a Sunni Muslim.”

Turkey ranks number 26 on Open Doors USA’s list of most persecuted countries in the world, following behind countries such as Syria (ranked number 11) and Egypt (ranked number 16), all three of which have a Sunni majority.[1] Turkey, however, shows tell-tale signs of wanting to become a Sunni Muslim state. While religious persecution there is more restrained than in other Sunni countries, Turkey is gradually moving further east, falling more in line with its less tolerate neighbors in the region.[2]

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