Turkey: International Religious Freedom Report 2007

US Department of State
Turkey:International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government
generally respected this right in practice; however, the Government
imposes some restrictions on Muslim and other religious groups and on
Muslim religious expression in government offices and state-run
institutions, including universities.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by
the Government during the reporting period, and government policy
continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on
religious belief or practice. Violent attacks and threats against
non-Muslims during the reporting period created an atmosphere of
pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim
communities. Although proselytizing is legal in the country, some
Muslims, Christians, and Baha’is faced a few restrictions and
occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized
meetings. The Government continued to oppose "Islamic fundamentalism."
Authorities continued their broad ban on wearing Muslim religious
headscarves in government offices, universities, and schools (upheld
by the European Court of Human Rights); a 2006 court ruling, some
argue, has extended this ban to the private sphere.
Religious minorities said they were effectively blocked from careers
in state institutions because of their faith. Christians, Baha’is, and
some Muslims faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and more radical
Islamist elements continued to express anti-Semitic
sentiments. Additionally, persons wishing to convert from Islam to
another religion sometimes experienced social harassment and violence
from relatives and neighbors.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom matters with the
Government as part of its overall policy to promote human
rights. Mission representatives met frequently with government
officials and representatives of religious groups during the reporting
year to discuss matters related to religious freedom, including legal
reform aimed at lifting restrictions on religious minorities.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of 301,383 square miles and a population of
72.6 million. According to the Government, 99 percent of the
population is Muslim, the majority of which is Sunni. According to the
human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mazlum-Der and
representatives of various religious minority communities, the actual
percentage of Muslims is slightly lower. The Government officially
recognizes only three minority religious communities–Greek Orthodox
Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Jews–although other
non-Muslim communities exist. The level of religious observance varied
throughout the country, in part due to the influence of secular
traditions and official restrictions on religious expression in
political and social life.
In addition to the country’s Sunni Muslim majority, academics
estimated there were 15 to 20 million Alevis, followers of a belief
system that incorporates aspects of both Shi’a and Sunni Islam and
draws on the traditions of other religions indigenous to Anatolia as
well. Some Alevis practice rituals that include men and women
worshipping together through oratory, poetry, and dance. The
Government considers Alevism a heterodox Muslim sect; however, some
Alevis and absolutist Sunnis maintain that Alevis are not Muslims.
There are several other religious groups, mostly concentrated in
Istanbul and other large cities. While exact membership figures are
not available, these religious groups include approximately 65,000
Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews, and up to 4,000 Greek
Orthodox Christians. The Government interpreted the 1923 Lausanne
Treaty as granting special legal minority status exclusively to these
three groups, although the treaty text refers broadly to "non-Muslim
minorities" without listing specific groups. However, this recognition
does not extend to the religious leadership organs; for example, the
Ecumenical (Greek Orthodox) and Armenian Patriarchates continue to
seek legal recognition of their status, the absence of which prevents
them from having the right to own and transfer property and train
religious clergy.
There also are approximately 10,000 Baha’is; an estimated 15,000
Syrian Orthodox (Syriac) Christians; 5,000 Yezidis; 3,300 Jehovah’s
Witnesses; 3,000 Protestants; and small, undetermined numbers of
Bulgarian, Chaldean, Nestorian, Georgian, Roman Catholic, and Maronite
Christians. The number of Syriac Christians in the southeast was once
high; however, under pressure from government authorities and later
under the impact of the war against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK), many Syriacs migrated to Istanbul, Western Europe, or
North and South America. Over the last several years, small numbers of
Syriacs returned from overseas to the southeast, mostly from Western
Europe. In most cases, older family members returned while younger
ones remained abroad.
Christian organizations estimate there are approximately 1,100
Christian missionaries in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Legal/Policy Framework
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government
generally respected this right in practice; however, the Government
imposes some restrictions on Muslims and other religious groups and on
Muslim religious expression in government offices, state-run
institutions, and universities, usually for the stated reason of
preserving the "secular state." The 1982 Constitution establishes the
country as a secular state and provides for freedom of belief, freedom
of worship, and the private dissemination of religious ideas. However,
other constitutional provisions regarding the integrity and existence
of the secular state restrict these rights. The Constitution prohibits
discrimination on religious grounds. Core institutions of the state,
including the presidency, armed forces, judiciary, and state
bureaucracy, have played the role, written into the Constitution, of
defending the country’s tradition of secularism throughout the history
of the republic. In some cases, elements of the state have opposed
policies of the elected government on the grounds that they threatened
the secular state.
The Government oversees Muslim religious facilities and courses
through the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which is under
the authority of the Prime Ministry. The Diyanet is responsible for
regulating the operation of the country’s more than 77,500 registered
mosques and employing local and provincial imams, who are civil
servants. Some groups, particularly Alevis, claimed that Diyanet
policies reflected mainstream Sunni Islamic beliefs to the exclusion
of other beliefs. However, the Government asserted that the Diyanet
treated equally all who requested services.
A separate government agency, the General Directorate for Foundations
(GDF), regulates activities of non-Muslim religious groups and their
affiliated churches, monasteries, synagogues, and related religious
property. The GDF recognizes 161 "minority foundations," including
Greek Orthodox foundations with approximately 61 sites, Armenian
Orthodox foundations with approximately 50 sites, and Jewish
foundations with 20 sites, as well as Syriac Christian, Chaldean,
Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian, and Maronite foundations. The GDF also
regulates Muslim charitable religious foundations, including schools,
hospitals, and orphanages. The GDF assesses whether the foundations
are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational
In 1936 the Government required all foundations to declare their
sources of income. In 1974 amid political tensions over Cyprus, the
High Court of Appeals ruled that the minority foundations had no right
to acquire properties beyond those listed in the 1936
declarations. The court’s ruling launched a process, under which the
state seized control of properties acquired after 1936.
Minority religious groups, particularly the Greek and Armenian
Orthodox communities, have lost numerous properties to the state in
the past and continued to fight ongoing efforts by the state to
expropriate properties. In many cases, the Government has expropriated
property on the grounds that it is not being utilized. At least two
appeals were filed in this regard: the Fener Boys School and the
Buyukada Orphanage (the latter closed in 1964).These cases are often
appealed to the Council of State ("Danistay") and, if unsuccessful
there, to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Many religious
minorities experienced problems operating places of worship due to
laws governing foundations.
The law restricting religious property rights was amended in 2002 to
permit minority foundations to acquire property; however, the
Government continued during the reporting period to apply an article
which allows it to expropriate properties in areas where the local
non-Muslim population drops significantly or where the foundation is
deemed to no longer perform the function for which it was
created. There is no specific minimum threshold concerning such a
population drop, rather it is left to the discretion of GDF. This is
particularly problematic for communities with smaller populations,
such as the Greek Orthodox community.
The law allows the 161 religious minority foundations recognized by
the GDF to acquire property, and the GDF has approved 364 applications
by non-Muslim foundations to acquire legal ownership of
properties. However, the legislation does not allow the communities to
reclaim the hundreds of properties affiliated with foundations
expropriated by the state over the years. Parliament passed a law on
November 9, 2006, that permitted the return of expropriated minority
properties not already sold to third parties, and made it easier to
form foundations. The President partially vetoed the law and stated
that nine provisions of the legislation were incompatible with the
Constitution, the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, or current law. The law was
awaiting parliamentary review by the close of this reporting
period. Even before the veto, the final text of the law had
disappointed many as it failed to address the issue of restitution and
ignored certain properties such as cemeteries and school as!
sets no
t registered under any foundation. Foundations were unable to acquire
legal ownership of properties registered under names of third parties,
including properties registered under the names of saints or
archangels, during periods when foundations could not own property in
their own name.
Non-Muslim minorities complain that the implementing regulations of
the law on foundations have led to interference in the elections of
foundation boards, the treatment of charitable community foundations
as business corporations for tax purposes, the freezing of revenue
from real estate transactions, and a ban on transferring surplus
income from one foundation to another. In other words, groups are
disallowed from using funds from properties in one part of the country
to support communities in other parts of the country. Renovation works
by community foundations on properties that are considered historic
require a permit from the local board of the protection of historical
Government authorities do not interfere in matters of doctrine
pertaining to non-Muslim religious groups, nor do they restrict the
publication or use of religious literature among members of the
There are legal restrictions against insulting any religion recognized
by the Government, interfering with that religion’s services, or
defacing its property.
Alevis freely practiced their beliefs and have built "cem houses"
(places of gathering), although these have no legal status as places
of worship, and are often referred to as "cultural centers."
Representatives of Alevi organizations maintained that they often
faced obstacles when attempting to establish cem houses. They said
there were approximately 100 cem houses in the country, a number that
they claimed was insufficient to meet their needs. There was a
ground-breaking ceremony in January 2007 for a new cem house and
cultural complex in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, with the support of
the Kadikoy municipality. Alevis also opened a new cem house in Sivas
in June 2007.
Alevis in the Kartal district of Istanbul continued to fight a court
battle, which began in 2004, against a decision by local authorities
to deny them permission to build a cem house.
In May 2006 authorities in the Sultanbeyli municipality of Istanbul
reportedly banned the construction of a cem house on the grounds that
the Pir Sultan Abdal Association, an Alevi group, had not acquired the
necessary construction permits. Association officials said the local
mayor and his staff had attended the groundbreaking ceremony and had
promised not to interfere with the project; however, the municipality
reportedly filed a case against the association after it proceeded
with construction following the ban. The case continued at the end of
the reporting period.
The Diyanet covers the utility costs of registered mosques, but not of
cem houses and other places of worship that are not officially
Alevi children have the same compulsory religious education as all
Muslims, and many Alevis alleged discrimination in the Government’s
failure to include any of their doctrines or beliefs in religious
instruction classes in public schools. Alevis currently have more than
4,000 court cases against the Ministry of Education regarding this
alleged discrimination. The Government revealed in January 2007 its
new religious course curriculum which was to include instruction on
Alevism, but many Alevis believed the materials were inadequate and,
in some cases false. Alevis also charged a bias in the Diyanet, which
does not allocate specific funds for Alevi activities or religious
leadership. Practically, the Diyanet budget is reserved for the Sunni
The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral
instruction in primary and secondary schools. Religious minorities are
exempted. However, a few religious minorities–such as
Protestants–faced difficulty obtaining exemptions, particularly if
their identification cards did not list a religion other than
Islam. The Government claims that the religion courses cover the range
of world religions; however, religious minorities asserted the courses
reflect Sunni Islamic doctrine, which they maintained explains why
non-Muslims are exempt.
In January 2004 an Alevi parent filed suit in the European Court of
Human Rights, charging that the mandatory religion courses violate
religious freedom; the case of Zengin v. Turkey is ongoing.
In November 2006 an Istanbul court announced its ruling in favor of an
Alevi father who requested that his son be exempt from the religion
courses at school; however, the Istanbul Governor’s office appealed
the decision and the case was still under Council of State (highest
administrative court) review at the close of the reporting period. Six
similar cases were filed in different parts of the country and
remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
Officially recognized religious minorities may operate schools under
the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The curriculum of these
schools includes Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish
instruction. Such schools are required to appoint a Muslim as deputy
principal; reportedly, these deputies have more authority than their
nominal supervisors. Additionally, regulations have made it somewhat
difficult for non-Muslims to register and attend these schools. The
Ministry of National Education reportedly checks to make sure that the
child’s father or (as of 2006) mother is from the minority community
before the child may enroll. Moreover, non-Muslim minorities that are
not officially recognized do not have schools of their own.
The Caferis, the country’s principal Shi’a community, numbering
between 500 thousand and 1 million (concentrated mostly in eastern
Turkey and Istanbul), do not face restrictions on their religious
freedoms. They build and operate their own mosques and appoint their
own imams; however, as with the Alevis, their places of worship have
no legal status and receive no support from the Diyanet.
Churches operating in the country generally face administrative
challenges to employ foreign church personnel, apart from the Catholic
Church and congregations linked to the diplomatic community. These
administrative challenges, plus restrictions on training religious
leaders and difficulties getting visas, have led to decreases in the
Christian communities.
The Government has also increased efforts to comply with ECHR
decisions. As a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the country
is subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Two relatively recent cases
filed by the Association of Protestant Churches are Zekai Tanyar and
Others v. Turkey and Altinkaynak and Others v. Turkey. Tanyar involves
the inability to register churches and other places of worship and
problems of lack of registration and legal status. Altinkaynak
involves a complaint regarding the zoning of property as a place of
In January 2007 the ECHR ruled in favor of the Fener Greek Orthodox
High School Foundation concerning two of its properties expropriated
in 1996. The verdict held that the Government violated the
foundation’s rights to property and ordered the return of the property
or the payment of 910,000 Euro in compensation.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free
practice of religion; however, state policy imposes some restrictions
on religious groups and on religious expression in government offices
and state-run institutions, including universities.
Secularists in the military, judiciary, and other branches of the
bureaucracy continued to speak out against what they label as Islamic
fundamentalism. These groups view religious fundamentalism as a threat
to the secular state. The National Security Council categorizes
religious fundamentalism as a threat to public safety. President Sezer
delivered a speech in April 2007 in which he repeated concerns that
separatism and religious fundamentalism are threats facing the
country. The President stated that the "fundamentalist threat has been
following the Republic as a sinister shadow since its establishment."
Also in April 2007, subsequent to the nomination of the ruling party’s
presidential candidate, the Turkish General Staff on its website
warned of the dangers of "fundamentalism" and declared its
determination to defend the secular state.
According to human rights NGO Mazlum-Der and other groups, a few
government ministries have dismissed or barred from promotion civil
servants suspected of anti-state or Islamist activities. Reports by
Mazlum-Der, the media, and others indicated that the military
periodically dismissed religiously observant Muslims from military
service. Such dismissals were based on behavior that military
officials believed identified these individuals as Islamic
fundamentalists, which they were concerned could indicate disloyalty
to the secular state.
According to Mazlum-Der, the military charged soldiers with lack of
discipline for activities that included performing Muslim prayers or
being married to women who wore headscarves. According to the
military, officers and noncommissioned officers were periodically
dismissed for ignoring repeated warnings from superior officers and
maintaining ties to what the military considered Islamic
fundamentalist organizations. In November 2006 the Government reported
37 military dismissals of which it claimed 2 were associated with
religious extremism. An additional 17 were reportedly expelled in
August 2006 for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
Mystical Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges
(cemaats) have been banned officially since the mid 1920s; however,
tarikats and cemaats remain active and widespread. Some prominent
political and social leaders continue to associate with tarikats,
cemaats, and other Islamic communities.
In late April 2007 police arrested four street evangelists in Istanbul
for "missionary activity," disturbing the peace, and insulting
Islam. The arrested included a U.S. citizen, one Korean, and two
Turks. The American was released 48 hours after his arrest, although
he reported a state prosecutor visited neither him nor the Korean. The
claim of insulting Islam was based on a book the evangelists were
giving out, which explained that Christians cannot accept the Qur’an
because it contradicts some of the teachings of the New Testament. The
prosecutor ultimately charged the evangelists with a single
misdemeanor of disturbing the peace.
Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to engage in a legal battle over their
efforts to form an association. In April 2006 an Istanbul court
rejected a lawsuit to cancel the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ newly formed
association. Pending the prosecutor’s subsequent appeal, the Jehovah’s
Witnesses may not conduct meetings as an association. In December 2006
the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a request to expedite the case with the
Court of Appeals. The request was still pending at the end of the
reporting period.
Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported continuing official harassment
of their worship services because they were not members of an
officially recognized religion. Police arrested 25-year-old member
Feti Demirtas and sent him to prison on 9 occasions for
conscientiously objecting to military service, as his religion
requires. According to Jehovah’s Witness officials, harassment of
their members included arrests, court hearings, verbal and physical
abuse, and psychiatric evaluations.
Religious minorities report difficulties opening, maintaining, and
operating houses of worship. Under the law, religious services may
take place only in designated places of worship. Municipal codes
mandate that only the Government can designate a place of worship, and
if a religion has no legal standing in the country, it may not be
eligible for a designated site. Non-Muslim religious services,
especially for religious groups that do not own property recognized by
the GDF, often take place on diplomatic property or in private
apartments. Police occasionally bar Christians from holding services
in private apartments, and prosecutors have opened cases against
Christians for holding unauthorized gatherings.
Article 219 of the penal code prohibits imams, priests, rabbis, or
other religious leaders from "reproaching or vilifying" the Government
or the laws of the state while performing their duties. Violations are
punishable by prison terms of 1 month to 1 year, or 3 months to 2
years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law.
The authorities continued to monitor the activities of Eastern
Orthodox churches but generally did not interfere with their religious
activities; however, significant restrictions were placed on the
administration of the churches. The Government does not recognize the
ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, acknowledging him
only as the head of the country’s Greek Orthodox community. High-level
government leaders often assert publicly that use of the term
"ecumenical" in reference to the Patriarch violates the 1923 Lausanne
Treaty. However, government officials privately acknowledge that
Lausanne does not address the issue. On June 26, 2007, the Higher
Court of Appeals ("Yargitay") reiterated the Government’s public
position despite ruling in favor of the Patriarchate in a case brought
against it by a defrocked Bulgarian Orthodox priest.
The Government has also long maintained that only citizens of the
country can be members of the Church’s Holy Synod and participate in
patriarchal elections, despite the Ecumenical Patriarch’s appeal to
allow non-Turkish prelates. However, the Government did not formally
respond to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s 2004 appointment of 6
noncitizen metropolitans to the Holy Synod, representing the first
appointment of noncitizens to the body in the 80 year history of the
Members of the Greek Orthodox community said the legal restrictions
particularly threatened the survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in
Istanbul because, with no more than 4,000 Greek Orthodox remaining in
the country, the community was becoming too small to provide enough
Turkish citizen prelate candidates to maintain the institution.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul continued to seek to reopen
the Halki seminary on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. The
Government closed the seminary in 1971 when the Patriarchate chose not
to comply with a state requirement for all private institutions of
higher learning to nationalize; the Patriarchate found it impossible
to comply. Government officials have reportedly not responded to
formal communications from the Greek Orthodox Church regarding the
re-opening of Halki Seminary and resolutions to other concerns
affecting the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The state provides training for Sunni Islamic clergy; religious
communities outside the Sunni Islamic mainstream cannot legally train
new clergy in the country for eventual leadership. Co-religionists
from outside the country were permitted to assume leadership positions
in some cases, but in general all religious community leaders,
including patriarchs and chief rabbis, must be citizens.
In April 2005 the Ecumenical Patriarchate filed an appeal with the
ECHR concerning the GDF’s expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage on
the Prince’s Islands that had belonged to the Patriarchate. On June
12, 2007, the ECHR announced its decision to hear the case.
In March 2007 the Yedikule Surp Pirgic Armenian Hospital Foundation in
Istanbul dropped an ECHR claim when the Government agreed to return
two properties and pay approximately $20,000 (15,000 Euro)
compensation for court expenses to the foundation. The Treasury had
attempted to sell one of the properties in March 2005 to a private
company, but the Finance Ministry blocked the sale. The ECHR continued
proceedings related to the appeal by the Armenian Orthodox community
of the 1999 expropriation of two other foundation properties.
No law explicitly prohibits proselytizing or religious conversions;
however, many prosecutors and police regarded proselytizing and
religious activism with suspicion. Police occasionally prevented
Christians from handing out religious literature. The Government
reported 157 conversions, including 92 to Islam and 63 from Islam to a
different religion. Proselytizing is often considered socially
unacceptable; Christians performing missionary work were occasionally
beaten and insulted. If the proselytizers are foreigners, they may be
deported, but generally they are able to reenter the country. Police
officers may report students who meet with Christian missionaries to
their families or to university authorities.
Authorities continued to enforce a long-term ban on the wearing of
headscarves at universities and by civil servants in public
buildings. Women who wear headscarves and persons who actively show
support for those who defy the ban have been disciplined or have lost
their jobs in the public sector as nurses and teachers. University
students who wear head coverings at public universities are officially
not permitted to register for classes, although some faculty members
permit students to wear head coverings in class.
Many secularists accuse Islamists of using advocacy for wearing the
headscarf as a political tool and fear that efforts to repeal the
headscarf ban will lead to pressure against women who choose not to
wear a head covering. In 2005 the ECHR ruled that Turkish universities
have the right to ban the headscarf.
In February 2006 the Council of State ruled in favor of a decision by
education authorities to revoke the promotion of an Ankara teacher to
a military compound-based nursery school principal position on the
grounds that the teacher regularly wore an Islamic headscarf outside
of school. Some journalists and religious rights advocates asserted
that the court’s decision effectively expanded the headscarf ban into
the private sphere. The court, however, maintained that the teacher
had violated the principle of secularism in education by wearing the
headscarf while traveling to and from school.
In May 2006 attorney Alparslan Arslan opened fire in the Council of
State court responsible for the February 2006 ruling, killing Judge
Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin and injuring four other judges. His case was
ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
In April 2007 four suspects were arrested after an armed assailant was
caught preparing for an attack against the president of the Higher
Board of Education. The assailant reportedly planned the attack
because he was angry with the decisions and statements of the Board
president. Some Islamists see the Board as responsible for the
headscarf ban in universities.
A 1997 law made eight years of secular education compulsory. After
completing the eight years, students may pursue study at imam hatip
(Islamic preacher) high schools, which cover both the standard high
school curriculum and Islamic theology and practice. Imam hatip
schools are classified as vocational, and graduates of vocational
schools face an automatic reduction in their university entrance exam
grades if they apply for university programs outside their field of
high school specialization. This reduction effectively bars most imam
hatip graduates from enrolling in university programs other than
theology. Many pious citizens criticized the religious instruction
provided in the regular schools as inadequate. Most families who
enrolled their children in imam hatip schools did so to expose them to
more extensive religious education, not to train them as imams.
In May 2007 the Council of State ruled as illegal a 2005 regulation
issued by the Education Ministry, which would have allowed imam hatip
students to earn degrees from regular high schools by taking distance
learning courses.
Only the Diyanet is authorized to provide religion courses outside of
school, although clandestine private courses do exist. Students who
complete the first five years of primary school may enroll in Diyanet
Qur’an classes on weekends and during summer vacation. Many Qur’an
courses function unofficially. Only children 12 and older may legally
register for official Qur’an courses, and Mazlum-Der reported that law
enforcement authorities often raided illegal courses for younger
Restoration or construction may be carried out in buildings and
monuments considered "ancient" only with authorization of the regional
board on the protection of cultural and national wealth. Bureaucratic
procedures and considerations relating to historic preservation in the
past have impeded repairs to religious facilities, especially in the
case of Syriac and Armenian Orthodox properties.
Religious affiliation is listed on national identity cards, despite
1982 Constitutional Article 24 which provides that no one shall be
compelled to reveal religious beliefs. A few religious groups, such as
the Baha’i, are unable to state their religious affiliation on their
cards because they are not included among the options; they have made
their concerns known to the Government. In April 2006 Parliament
adopted legislation allowing persons to leave the religion section of
their identity cards blank or change the religious designation by
written application. However, the Government reportedly continued to
restrict applicants’ choice of religion; members of the Baha’i
community said government officials had told them that, despite the
new law, they would still not be able to list their religion on the
There were reports that local officials harassed some persons who
converted from Islam to another religion when they sought to amend
their cards. Some non-Muslims maintained that listing religious
affiliation on the cards exposed them to discrimination and
harassment. In 2005 an Alevi citizen filed a case with the ECHR
seeking the deletion of the religious affiliation section on national
identity cards. A decision in the case was still pending at the end of
the reporting period.
In October 2004 the Government’s Human Rights Consultation Board
issued a report on minorities, which stated that non-Muslims were
effectively barred from careers in state institutions, such as the
armed forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Police,
and the National Intelligence Agency. Professors Baskin Oran and
Ibrahim Kaboglu faced criminal charges for their roles as principal
authors of the report. An Ankara court acquitted them in May
2006. Members of minority religious communities confirmed the report’s
conclusions. They said non-Muslim citizens were viewed as foreigners
and were therefore considered unqualified to represent the state.
In February 2007 2 of the 74 defendants charged in connection with the
November 2003 terrorist bombings of 2 synagogues, the British
Consulate and a bank were sentenced to "heavy" (no chance of parole)
life in prison; 5 were sentenced to life in prison; 41 received 3 to
18 year sentences; and 26 were acquitted.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the
Abuses of Religious Freedom
After the April 18, 2007, killings in Malatya of three Christians,
Turkish victim Ugur Yuksel was denied a Christian burial and given an
Islamic/Alevitic burial instead. Turkish victim Necati Aydin was
buried in a Protestant churchyard in Izmir. The Governor of Malatya
was initially hesitant to permit the burial of the German victim in
Malatya. He told the German victim’s widow that no Christian should be
buried in Turkish soil. However, after negotiations between German
Government and Turkish Government officials, the victim was buried in
a private Armenian cemetery in Malatya.
In October 2006 a prosecutor pressed criminal charges against two
(Muslim) converts to Christianity for violating Article 301
("insulting Turkishness"), inciting hatred against Islam, and secretly
compiling data on private citizens for a Bible correspondence
course. If convicted, the men could be sentenced to six months to
three years in prison. On the basis of reports that defendants were
approaching grade and high school students in Silivri and attempting
to convert them to Christianity, police searched one man’s home, then
went to the mens’ office and confiscated two computers, as well as
books and papers. The three plaintiffs claimed that the Christians
called Islam a "primitive and fabricated religion" and described Turks
as a "cursed people." The accused denied all charges. The case
continued at the end of the reporting period.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of
minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from
the United States, or the refusal to allow such citizens to be
returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious
In March 2007 the Government held a ceremony to reopen the 10th
century Armenian Holy Cross Church on Akdamar Island as a memorial
museum after a long restoration process that it had funded. By the end
of the reporting period, the Government was still considering a
request by the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul to allow the
placement of a cross on the building.
In August 2006 the Istanbul Protestant Church finalized the legal
procedure for officially registering its building as a "place of
worship." This was the first time that the Government had approved a
request for such status in the zoning plan.
Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on
religious belief or practice. Some violent attacks and threats against
non-Muslims during the reporting period created an atmosphere of
pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslims. Public debates
ensued over the Government’s response to these attacks and
threats. Religious pluralism was widely viewed as a threat to Islam
and to "national unity." A few Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, and
members of other religious communities faced societal suspicion and
Jews and Christians from most denominations freely practiced their
religions and reported little discrimination in daily life. However,
citizens who converted from Islam to another religion often
experienced some form of social harassment or pressure from family and
neighbors. Proselytizing on behalf of non-Muslim religious groups was
socially unacceptable and sometimes dangerous. A variety of newspapers
and television shows regularly published and broadcast anti-Christian
messages, and at least one municipality distributed anti-missionary
publications. Anti-missionary and anti-Christian rhetoric appears to
have continued among government officials and national media sources
such as Hurriyet and Millyet. Government ministers, such as Mehmet
Aydin, Minister of State in charge of religious affairs, called
missionaries "separatist and destructive."
Additionally, nationalist sentiments sometimes contained
anti-Christian or anti-Semitic overtones. Jewish community members
reported a significant rise of anti-Semitic language in newspapers and
websites in the past few years, as well as increased societal
antagonism and discrimination during the July-August 2006 conflict
involving Israel and Lebanon. There were growing numbers of media
stories about Israeli and U.S. misdeeds in Iraq and pieces containing
anti-Semitic stereotyping. Jewish leaders in the country believed the
anti-Semitism is directly related to events in the Middle East, and
Jewish community members reported that they are held responsible for
these events.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings during the
reporting period.
On April 18, 2007, three members of a Protestant church in Malatya,
including a German citizen, were tortured and killed in the office of
a company that publishes books on Christianity. The suspects of the
killings had notes on their persons claiming, "We did it for our
religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion."
Four suspects were caught as they were trying to leave the building
while another jumped out of a window and was hospitalized. Five out of
eleven suspects detained after the killings remained in custody at the
end of the reporting period. Some reports suggest the publishing house
and the victims received death threats for a year before the killings,
but the local police did not provide protection. Apparently the
suspects had spent months gaining the trust of the victims under the
guise of an interest in the Christian faith.
In October 2006 a local court convicted and sentenced a 16-year-old to
life in prison with no chance of parole for the February 2006
assassination of Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro while he was praying
in church after Mass in Trabzon. The sentence was later reduced to 18
years’ and 10 months’ in prison because the assailant was under the
age of 18.
There were multiple religiously motivated attacks on persons during
the reporting period. On May 28, 2007, two Georgian priests touring
the country were beaten in Artvin because they were believed to be
missionaries. In February 2007 two persons fired guns in the air after
a memorial service commemorating the 40th day following the Hrant Dink
assassination. The suspects were arrested shortly after the incident
and reportedly claimed they intended to target Armenian Patriarch
Mesrob II, who presided over the ceremony.
In December 2006 the pastor of an Eskisehir church in the municipality
of Tepebashi was severely beaten in a park. The church did not file a
report or complaint because they did not want to "damage the image of
the city." In September 2006 an American missionary and a team of five
street evangelists were physically attacked but received only minor
injuries. Local police helped the Christians receive treatment at a
nearby hospital.
On July 2, 2006, a schizophrenic, Atilla Nuran, stabbed a French
Catholic priest in Samsun. After questioning, the police brought Nuran
before a criminal court, and he was committed to a psychiatric
hospital for examination. Nuran had visited the priest’s church since
1998 and claimed the church was trying to Christianize Muslim
youth. Since then, the church’s lawyer has won court cases against
Nuran for libeling the church.
In March 2006 an assailant entered a Catholic Church in Mersin,
threatening church members with a knife and shouting anti-Christian
statements. Police arrived at the scene and arrested the
assailant. Although the church did not press charges, the assailant is
serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted by a court
for stealing a cell phone from the church.
In February 2006 a group of young men beat and threatened to kill a
Catholic friar in Izmir. The attackers shouted anti-Christian slogans
and said they wanted to "clean Turkey of non-Muslims." By the end of
the reporting period, authorities had not opened a case against the
In January 2006 five assailants severely beat Protestant church leader
Kamil Kiroglu in Adana. One attacker wielded a knife and threatened to
kill Kiroglu unless he renounced Christianity. The Government did not
investigate the incident or make any arrests, and Kiroglu did not
press charges.
There were also multiple religiously motivated attacks on property
during the reporting period. Three attacks were reported against the
Eskisehir church in the municipality of Tepebasi in May 2007. On May
19, the church was attacked with a Molotov cocktail bomb. The prior
(second) incident occurred while the police watching the building had
left to assist an incident elsewhere in the city. The church asked the
Government for protection and claims that the Government is not taking
their request seriously. In early May 2007 there was an attempted
arson, but the fire was noticed early and damage was minimal.
On April 21, 2007, the International Protestant Church in Ankara was
firebombed with Molotov cocktails. Local police investigated the
attack promptly. In March 2007 a hand grenade was thrown into the
courtyard of the President of the Syriac Churches Foundation in
Mardin’s Midyat district. The police started an investigation, but
there were no reports of arrests following the incident.
On January 28, 2007, vandals attacked the building of the Agape Church
Foundation in Samsun, shattering the windows with rocks and spray
painting street signs early Sunday morning. The pastor said a note was
left inside the church, but police refused to show it to him, claiming
it "wasn’t important." The police chief refused to include the note in
the official investigation. Four days before the attack, the Black Sea
online site Kuzeyhaber published a column praising efforts to stop the
spread of Christianity in Samsun.
On November 4, 2006, the Odemis Protestant Church in Izmir was
attacked with Molotov Cocktails, following repeated stone throwing and
harassment in the weeks before.
There were instances of citizens disrupting church services. In May
2006 a group of nationalist and leftist protestors attempted to
disrupt a Greek Orthodox Christian mass at a historical church in
Bergama. In April 2006 a group of young men entered the Syriac
compound in Diyarbakir and shouted threats at church members. Police
refused to send patrols to the neighborhood of the church until a few
days later, when the church’s Easter ceremonies were held.
Death threats against Christian American citizens continue to be a
concern. For example, Christian American citizens living in the
country received religion-based death threats via letters and
voicemails, stating that if they did not return to America they would
be killed.
Despite the widespread condemnation of the Malatya killings, threats
and incidents of attempted violence against Protestants continue to be
documented. Two pastors, one in Diyarkbakir and one in Samsun,
expressed fears they were being targeted for harassment and might be
killed. The pastor of a church in Samsun has received many death
threats in the past few years. During the period covered by the
report, he received a threat claiming, "it will be worse than Malatya"
if he does not leave. He also received two death threats by e-mail on
January 28, 2007, the day his church was attacked. One was signed by
the Turkish Vengeance Brigade. One email threatened to kill him and
another cursed his congregation. Prior to this, the church suffered a
dozen stoning attacks and weekly e-mail threats.
Other demonstrations of religious discrimination and hatred were
documented. In the May 2007 deposition of accused Malatya killer Emre
Gunaydin, he told police investigators his original purpose was to
frighten the victims from spreading propaganda but that he had become
angry when they said, "in the end, everyone will worship Jesus" and
could not control his actions. He also revealed that he planned to
kill a different Christian. A newspaper editor published the
deposition, including the intended victim’s name, stating that local
security police gave him a copy.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom matters with the
Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The
Ambassador and other mission officials, including staff of the
U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul and the U.S. Consulate in Adana,
enjoyed close relations with the Muslim majority and other religious
groups. The U.S. Embassy continued to urge the Government to permit
the reopening of the Halki seminary on Heybeli Island.
In November 2006 the U.S. Commission on International Religious
Freedom visited Istanbul and Ankara and met with senior government
officials, leaders of religious minority communities, political
parties, NGOs, business organizations and intellectuals to discuss
religious freedom in the country.
Also in November 2006 the Ambassador and Consul General attended
numerous interfaith events associated with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit
to the country.
The Ambassador discussed religious freedom regularly in private
meetings with cabinet members. These discussions touched on both
government policy regarding Islam and other religions and specific
cases of alleged religious discrimination. The Ambassador met with
Diyanet President Ali Bardakoglu and with religious minority leaders
including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva,
and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Mesrob II to show support for
religious freedom and to discuss concerns affecting their respective
Other embassy and consulate officers held similar meetings with
government officials. Following the Malatya killings, officials met
with the Governor of Istanbul to ensure local safety concerns were
addressed. Diplomats from the Embassy and Consulates met regularly
with representatives of the various religious groups. These meetings
covered a range of topics, including problems faced by non-Muslim
groups and the debate over the role of Islam in the country.
The Istanbul Consul General hosted an event in honor of Alliance of
Civilization leaders and the U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom attended by religious freedom experts in various
The Embassy’s human rights officer gave a speech promoting religious
tolerance during a Baha’i hosted International Religious Freedom Day
The mission utilizes the International Visitor Program to introduce
professionals in various fields to the United States and American
counterparts. Religious topics are included among these programs.

Released on September 14, 2007

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