Turkey (MNN) — Minority populations in Turkey increasingly find themselves “on the outs” with authorities and society-at-large. Concerning the future of religious freedom in Turkey, “It’s not looking positive,” says Daniel Hoffman, Executive Director of Middle East Concern.
Turkish authorities target foreign Christian leaders, and the world-renowned Hagia Sophia is in the cross-hairs, too.
“As President Erdogan continues to lose support, he is looking to ‘scapegoat’ people for the pressure and the difficulties, especially economically, that Turkey is facing. He’s, among other things, accusing the Christian communities of working ‘behind the scenes’ to damage the economy and the country,” Hoffman continues.
One of the world’s oldest churches, the Hagia Sophia, currently functions as a museum in Istanbul. President Erdogan wants to convert it into a mosque. Turkey’s highest court was supposed to announce its decision a few days ago. Instead, the court delayed until July 17th.
Hoffman says criminals have targeted churches at the local level more than once in recent weeks. More about that here. “When the police arrested the perpetrators, they would say things like, ‘Well, we attack them (Christians) because they are behind the spread of the coronavirus,’ which is nonsense, of course,” Hoffman states.
“It’s probably inspired by some of these media reports that minority communities, including the Christian community, are working together with foreign countries to damage [Turkey].”
Decades of debate surround the Hagia Sophia. “It’s one of the oldest churches in the world and one of the key centers, especially for Eastern Orthodox communities around the world,” Hoffman explains. Read a brief history of the Hagia Sophia here.
In short, the church became a mosque during the Ottoman Empire, and then a museum in 1935. “There have been periods where Turkey’s Muslims have pushed for returning the building into a mosque, [which] is strongly opposed by the Christian communities,” Hoffman says.
“It’s coming up again now [because] it’s pushed by President Erdogan. He has been losing a lot of support over the last few years, so he’s trying to do things that will please his base. It’s especially that base which has been pushing for this.”
The difficulties surrounding foreign believers are slightly more complicated. More details here.
“There have been quite a number of expatriate Christian leaders who have received an entry ban. So, when they leave, they’re not allowed to come back into the country. It’s difficult to know exactly why this is happening,” Hoffman explains.
“[Several] people have challenged these entry bans in court, but even their lawyers do not get access to their case files. They’re all sealed by the intelligence, so it’s very difficult for the lawyers to defend these people.”
Answers may be elusive, but some facts are definite. “It started after the court case against Andrew Brunson and his deportation from the country,” Hoffman says. More about Brunson here.
“Some people believe that maybe it is ‘revenge’ from individual sections of the Turkish authorities. [A few] people were individually sanctioned by the American government as part of their pressure on the Turkish authorities to release Andrew,” Hoffman describes.
“It appears that everyone who has received an entry ban, in this case, was a participant in one or more of three meetings that were happening last year. [It] appears that authorities are trying to figure out which foreigners were at these meetings, and if they discover a new name of a participant, they will issue an entry ban against them.”
Pray for strength as believers continue Gospel work in Turkey.
“One of the main things that we can do to stand with them is to support them in prayer,” Hoffman says. “[It’s] something they would very much appreciate.”
Header image courtesy of Adli Wahid on Unsplash.