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US Commission Releases New Report: Examination of Threats to Religious Sites in Turkey

On Monday, November 13, 2023, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a new report, Examination of Threats to Religious Sites in Turkey. This report examines threats to religious properties in Turkey, including places of worship, religious institutions, and cemeteries, and outlines important aspects of the ongoing plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The report notes that “the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne also provided protection and freedom of worship for the remaining non-Muslim communities,” but that this protection and freedom of worship has often been sharply curtailed, not infrequently through action against sacred Christian sites. The report shows highest number of attacks on Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox churches took place in the Marmara region, where Istanbul is located, correlating to its higher concentration of non-Muslim populations.

The report also cites one notorious example of how “confiscation can also be used as a form of retaliation,” and details how “Turkish authorities confiscated the Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage in Büyükada, Istanbul” in 1964 and subsequently “closed it down and let it decay.” By the time the Ecumenical Patriarchate was able to regain control of the site by means of an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, “the building had sustained significant damage and fallen into disrepair. The burden is on the Greek Orthodox community to repair and preserve the site at considerable financial cost.”

In summary, the report concludes that while bombings and terrorist attacks have decreased over the last decade, incidents of vandalism, destruction of religious property through arson, treasure hunting, and the lack of prosecution of these incidents have increasingly affected the Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox communities in Turkey. These findings are an indication of a wider political indifference towards the protection and property rights of the community as a non-Muslim minority.

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