Churches Advocate For Religious Minorities’ Rights In Turkey


[email protected]
December 8, 2009

An international ecumenical delegation visiting Turkey at the end
of November has encouraged the country’s authorities to improve the
situation of religious minorities. The exercise of religious freedom,
the legal status of churches, including property issues, and the
right to religious education were on the agenda.

The five-member delegation representing the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) visited the
Muslim-majority Republic of Turkey on 23-27 November.

In Istanbul, the delegation met with the Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew, with Archbishop Aram Atesian from the Armenian
Patriarchate, and with representatives of the Syrian Orthodox
community. It also met representatives of the Jewish community. In
Ankara, the country’s capital city, the delegation met members of
the Syrian Orthodox Mor Gabriel Monastery led by their Archbishop
Mor Timotheos Samuel Aktas.

Amongst the difficulties faced by churches in Turkey are the
non-recognition of the "ecumenical status" of the Ecumenical Patriarch
and of his patriarchate, as well as the obstacles to the re-opening of
the Theological School of Halki (Heybeliada). The Armenian Patriarchate
reports restrictions to property rights involving several church,
school and hospital buildings, as well as neglect and destruction
of religious and cultural heritage. The Syrian Orthodox community
deplores the dispute over the Mor Gabriel Monastery.

According to the US State Department’s Annual Report on International
Religious Freedom, there is "substantial abuse of religious freedom
in Turkey". The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights has
pointed to shortcomings regarding minorities’ cultural and property
rights. And a report by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies
Foundation has acknowledged that the country is "failing on minority
property rights".

The delegation raised the churches’ concerns in meetings with
Vice-Prime Minister Bulent Arınc; with officials of the Presidency of
Religious Affairs, which is the country’s highest Islamic authority;
and with the president of the National Education, Culture, Youth and
Sport Committee of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

The Turkish authorities expressed their commitment to enabling all
religious minorities in the country to fully exercise their right to
freedom of religion. Another issue addressed at those meetings was
the role churches and international ecumenical organizations can play
to actively assist the country’s integration into the European Union.

The same issue featured in a meeting at the headquarters of the
daily newspaper Zaman, where the delegation discussed with Turkish
journalists the role of the media with regard to religious minorities.

Members of the ecumenical delegation were: Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik,
moderator of the WCC Commission of Churches on International Affairs;
Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, former WCC general secretary; Rev. Lena Kumlin,
legal adviser on EU affairs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
Finland; Rev. Rudiger Noll, CEC associate general secretary; and
Christina Papazoglou, WCC programme executive for Human Rights.

WCC member churches in Turkey:

Conference of European Churches:

Commission of Churches on International Affairs:

WCC programme work on human rights:

Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363
[email protected]

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith,
witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical
fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together
349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing
more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works
cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary
is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya.