Turkey: Turkish government taking advantage of pandemic and recession to pressure and scapegoat Christians

June 24, 2020

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: Alexander Görlach, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a senior research associate at the Religion & International Studies Institute at Cambridge University, states here that “step by step, using a nationalist and Islamic rhetoric, Turkey’s Christians are becoming a welcome scapegoat.” Epitomizing that phenomenon is the current initiative of the Turkish government to turn the Hagia Sophia, which was for nearly a thousand years the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the center of the Orthodox Faith, and the world’s most magnificent cathedral, into a mosque. See this important article for more background. Converting the Hagia Sophia to a mosque once again would further undermine the position of the Christians of Turkey, making their situation all the more precarious.

We urgently appeal to the government of Turkey to affirm its commitment to religious freedom and discard all plans to change the status of the Hagia Sophia. And once again we urgently request that the United Nations and the U.S. State Department and Commission on Religious Freedom act to prevent this, given the Hagia Sophia’s importance for Christians and the deleterious effect this change would have upon Turkey’s embattled Christian minority.

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

“Opinion: Christians a welcome scapegoat in Turkey,” by Alexander Görlach, DW, June 23, 2020:

The persecution of Christians in Turkey continues. While the world is busy fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing with mass unemployment and a global recession, the Turkish government is taking advantage of the situation to further pressure minorities. The marginalization of Turkey’s Christians isn’t new for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: He’s been busy reorganizing his secular republic into a mixture of Ottomanism and Islam for some time now.

Recently, the Syriac-Aramaic Christians in the country’s southeast, in particular, had to fear for their rights and property. This religious community is one of the world’s oldest churches. Aramaic, the language the community uses in worship, is thought to have been spoken by Jesus Christ himself.

Systematic discrimination

Turkish authorities have started to simply assign land owned by a community or a private person to other owners, in effect expropriating it from the Christians. During the armed confrontation with the Kurds, churches in this part of the country have also been destroyed.

In the wake of the recent Turkish military offensive in northern Syria, some 200,000 people, many of them Christians, have been forced to flee their homes. They are currently unable to return due to the conflict.

Erdogan has promised to let the churches be rebuilt. But the long-running and systematic discrimination against Turkey’s Christian minority suggests he isn’t really serious about reviving Christian religious life.

On trial for following his faith

Take the case of Sefer Bilecen. In January, the Syriac Orthodox priest from Mardin in southeastern Turkey was accused of being a member of a terrorist group. He is said to have given water and bread to Kurdish fighters who knocked at the gate of his monastery.

In his defense, the priest has argued that he would provide help to anyone who asked for it — it’s his Christian duty. He has since been released from prison after various aid organizations intervened, but is still on trial….

Step by step, using a nationalist and Islamic rhetoric, Turkey’s Christians are becoming a welcome scapegoat for Ankara….