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Turkey

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This ancient Christian church in Trabzon has been registered as a mosque 
Alaexis / CC BY-SA 3.0

The efforts of Turkey’s government to Islamise Turkish politics and society suffered two major setbacks in 2013. The fall of Islamist regimes in Egypt and Tunisia undermined Turkey’s claim that modern and democratic institutions could be successfully combined with the values of political Islam. And large-scale demonstrations against the government’s Islamisation programme underlined widespread popular discontent with its vigorous attempts to promote Islam.

However, the country’s small Christian minority is still labouring under crippling government restrictions. All religious activity is closely supervised by the state, and the rights of churches to own property, conduct services and open other facilities are severely limited. Difficulties are also made for them in managing their own internal governance, training their leaders and undertaking evangelism and religious education. Some theological schools have been closed down. Controls are especially tight on members of non-traditional denominations.

Many Turkish Muslims regard Islam as an essential part of national identity, and as a result Christians (and other minorities) are regarded with suspicion or outright hostility. They suffer discrimination and harassment, and occasional but sometimes serious acts of violence. A number of ministers and Christian workers have been murdered, and in 2013 a plot to kill a pastor in Izmit was foiled only by counter-terrorism units. Converts from Islam are also particularly vulnerable, as are Christians who share their faith or teach Christianity to children. Christians are often portrayed very negatively in the media and in school textbooks.

Islamists also appear intent on erasing visible evidence of Turkey’s Christian past. In 2013 an ancient Byzantine church in Trabzon, which had been in secular use, was registered as a mosque and its Christian-themed mosaics hidden from view.

Present-day Turkey includes the area where the seven churches of Revelation are located. Turkey, known to the Romans as “Asia Minor”, saw Christianity spread rapidly during the first century after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was here that several of the early Christian communities, such as the Ephesians and the Galatians, were found. The city of Istanbul used to be Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire.

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