What does persecution look like in Turkey?
On the face of it, the Turkish legal system protects religious freedoms. However, that is not the lived reality for Christians in Turkey. Religious nationalism is very strong and is putting Christians under increasing pressure.
Nationalism and Islam are intrinsically linked and anyone who is not a Muslim, particularly someone who openly lives out a different faith, is seen to be a disloyal Turk. Christians are therefore not regarded as full members of Turkish society. They have limited access to state employment and experience discrimination in private employment, especially where employers have ties to the government. Since religious affiliation is still recorded on ID cards (nowadays via electronic chip), it is easy to discriminate against Christian job applicants. In recent years, the government has banned foreign Christians with Turkish spouses and children from settling in the country as residents.
Although conversion from Islam to Christianity is not legally forbidden, converts are put under pressure by their families and communities to return to Islam. If their faith is discovered, they may be threatened with divorce and the loss of inheritance rights. Converts from Islam can legally change their religious affiliation on ID cards to Christianity, but it is a stressful process and they may face discrimination at the hands of individual government officials.
Who is most vulnerable to persecution?
Women who convert from Islam to Christianity are most vulnerable to persecution. If their faith is discovered they can suffer violence at the hands of their own families, and in the most serious cases they are subjected to sexual violence. This is more common in rural areas.
Historical Christian groups like the Armenian and Assyrian Syriac churches face pressure and hostility in southeastern Turkey. For decades, they have been caught between the rivalries of the Turkish army and Kurdish resistance groups. Most of these Christians do not live in their ancestral region anymore but have moved to western areas of Turkey to escape the conflict.
Inland areas tend to be more conservative and strictly Islamic. Socially, they can be hostile towards Christians.
Meet "Hans-Jurgen Louven"
"The only reason I can think of for [forcing me to leave] is that we are people of faith, and at times we have shared our faith with the local people."Hans-Jurgen Louven, a foreign Christian who was forced to leave Turkey
What has changed this year?
Pressure on Christians increased very slightly, with an increase in reported violence being the main reason why Turkey has risen one place on the World Watch List. Although no Christians were killed during the past twelve months, a higher number of church buildings were damaged, desecrated, converted into mosques or otherwise attacked. In Turkey, Islam is totally blended with fierce nationalism. Aggressive rhetoric from the government has left less space for other voices and perspectives, such as Christianity. There is a high level of distrust towards Christians, especially in inland Turkey, making public outreach hard and resulting in high levels of societal opposition. During the past year, Christian asylum seekers and refugees, including converts from Islam from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and other nations, have faced very high levels of discrimination and abuse.
What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Turkey?
Open Doors raises worldwide prayer support for persecuted believers in Turkey.
How can you pray for Turkey?
- Please pray that Christian converts will feel loved and accepted by God, even when their own families reject them
- Pray for the Turkish government to make policies that recognise Christians as equal to Muslims
- Pray for opportunities for Christians in Turkey to share Jesus safely, with friends and family.
Dear Father, we pray for the witness of our brothers and sisters in Turkey. Light up their faith so that all who interact with them see Christ reflected in them. Help them to live lives that spark intrigue in others, so that more people will discover the joy of following Jesus. Through small interactions with Christians, challenge people's suspicion towards Christianity. Build a more tolerant society where religious discrimination is eradicated. Amen