Turkey (MNN) – There’s a saying that goes ‘To be Turk is to be Muslim and to be Muslim is to be Turk’. It’s also been the root ideology behind increasing pressure on Christians in Turkey.
The recent high-profile case of American pastor Andrew Brunson seems to have coincided with a spike in public hate speech against Christians in Turkey. It’s an alarming trend, notes Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern. Where other countries might have citizens who would take the state-controlled press with a ‘grain of salt’, the same cannot be said in Turkey.
“There is an unfortunate trend in Turkey that the society often accepts and is motivated by what the government and the press are saying.”
Persecution detailed in report
The reality is, he points out, that hate speech towards the Christian community in Turkey isn’t new. What’s more, this is not simply the result of the Andrew Brunson case.
As a campaign, Windsor remarks, ”It’s hard to say exactly what the end goal is of it. It certainly seems to be part of some wider narrative and agenda and we need to acknowledge within that, that Turkish press can’t really be described as a ‘free press’. It is, in many ways, a mouthpiece of the Erdogan government.”
In the 2018 annual human rights report released by the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches, Turkey’s media outlets (national, local and social) published information designed to incite hatred of Protestants “due to their beliefs”. Brunson’s arrest, incarceration, and trial provided plenty of fodder.
Windsor explains that as a result, ”There is a sense of concern and insecurity amongst the religious minorities, including the Christians in Turkey. What we’re seeing in these spurious articles with terrible allegations, often photos, names, and activities of churches are being published.”
A climate of uncertainty
Open Doors observed the trends in their annual World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries around the world where persecution of Christians is the worst. On the 2019 list, Turkey moved up to 26th place, up from 37th last year.
This is due, in part, to continued fallout from an attempted coup in 2016. In the name of ‘national security’, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gradually took on more powers and eventually his government dropped the democracy façade and began openly restricting freedom.
Converts from Islam face the most pressure. Turks regard leaving Islam as a betrayal of Turkish identity, Islam and family. The training of Christian leaders is legally impossible, and it is extremely difficult to register as a new church, although small congregations can register as “associations.”
In trying to shift the government from a secular one to one under Sunni Islam, there’s little space left for religious minorities like Christians. That creates a climate of uncertainty, according to church leaders in Turkey.
Windsor observes, “Whether it is in relation to these articles or whether it is in relation to some of the actions, some of the verbal assaults or the vandalism that seems to come off the back of these provocations, police are not acting in response to these situations.”
Everyone is under more scrutiny. Many Christians outside of Turkey wonder how they can help or how effective any help they can offer might be. Windsor says that we can do two things to come alongside Christians in Turkey.
First, ”It’s deeply concerning, in terms of the direction of Turkey. Understanding and acknowledging what’s happening there is part of it. We want to see the international community recognizing the challenge and the potential deterioration of the situation in Turkey for religious minorities, and in general, should Turkey continue in the direction that it’s going.”
Second, he urges, ”We’d also encourage prayer for the small Christian community that there is in Turkey, which is feeling the pressure, which is concerned about what’s happening. Prayer that they would be able to stand firm, that God would be able to protect them against the evil that might be done against them and that they would be a light in that country.”
Headline photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan courtesy of Pixabay.