Source of information:
These articles were reprinted from Forum 18 News Service. F18News has a web site at: http://www.forum18.org/ 1 They promote the implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and concentrates upon gross and open breaches of religious freedom, especially situations where the lives of individuals or groups are threatened, and where the right to gather based upon belief is threatened. They promote:
Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Turkey, Forum 18 News Service has found that the country continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. A long-standing crucially important issue, with many implications, is that Turkey has not legally recognized religious communities in their own right as independent communities with full legal status - such as the right to own places of worship and the legal protection religious communities normally have in states under the rule of law. Additionally, the most dangerous threat to individuals exercising freedom of religion or belief has been a series of violent attacks and murders on those perceived as threats; in recent years the victims have been Christians. Turkish citizens have argued to Forum 18 that the protection of the right of all to freedom of religion or belief, as laid down in the international human rights standards which Turkey is party to, should be the standard used by the authorities in all affected fields. They also argue that the authorities [must] act against the intolerance fuelling violent attacks and murders.
Turkey religious freedom survey by Otto Oehring & Güzide Ceyhan:
Otmar Oehring is the Head of the Human Rights Office of Missio at: http://www.missio.de
Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Turkey, Forum 18 News Service has found that the country continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. The single most important and the most long-standing issue is the fact that - despite undertaking to do so in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty - Turkey has not legally recognized non-Muslim religious communities in their own right as independent communities with full legal status - such as the right to own places of worship and the legal protection religious communities normally have in states under the rule of law. This problem faces all religious communities in Turkey, including those which were not present in 1923. Even the majority Sunni Islamic community is not recognized in this way, instead being under the control of the Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs, which reports directly to the Prime Minister. Additionally, the most dangerous threat to individuals exercising freedom of religion or belief has been a series of violent attacks and murders on those perceived as threats. In recent years the victims have been Christians.
Turkey straddles Europe and Asia and has a population of over 72 million, about three-quarters of them ethnic Turks. The next largest ethnic group are the Kurds, with smaller numbers of ethnic Arabs, Circassians, Armenians, Laz, Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others. An estimated 99 per cent of the population are of a Muslim background, mainly Sunnis, with 20 to 30 per cent of the population being Alevis, and very small numbers of Shias. The largest non-Muslim religious community are Christians, with the Armenian Apostolic being the largest church followed by Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Catholics of various rites and Protestants. Baha'is and Jehovah's Witnesses are present in smaller numbers - in the case of Baha'is around 10,000.
The "deep state" -- military, security, bureaucracy and elite representatives -- have been unhappy with the rise of the ruling AKP party. The deep state remains wedded to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's "secularism" as they understand it. This entails overt state control of Islam through the Diyanet, which reports directly to the Prime Minister, and enshrines serious restrictions on the ability of non-Muslims and Muslims outside state control to exercise freedom of religion or belief. It is difficult to reconcile with the Constitution's statement that the Republic is a secular state, as this "secularism" gives state-run Sunni Islam rights which no other group enjoys. It also imposes controls on state-run Sunni Islam imposed on no other group, such as on the content of sermons. The Diyanet is funded with tax collected from all citizens, regardless of their religion or belief, and supports tax exemptions for the only mosques permitted (those controlled by the Diyanet) and employs and pays the salaries of their imams. No other faith, or indeed non-state-controlled Muslim group, is permitted to train its clergy in Turkey.
Among the other problems flowing from the state definition of "secularism" are continuing and long-standing problems caused by the ban on religious communities' themselves owning property. Communities as diverse as Alevi Muslims, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and the Syrian Orthodox Church have seen no significant progress in resolving property problems. Examples include no progress on recognising Alevi Muslim cem houses as places of worship and continuing vexatious legal cases aimed at depriving the Mor Gabriel Syrian Orthodox Monastery in south-eastern Turkey of its land.
As non-Muslim communities are under threat of violent attacks, the Interior Ministry issued a circular in June 2007 asking law enforcement forces to protect non-Muslim places of worship, and be watchful for plans to attack them. A number of plans to mount attacks were subsequently uncovered and prevented, for instance a plot to kill the pastor of a church in Antalya. However, this step, although welcome, addresses only the symptoms of intolerance, not the root causes. Official protection for religious leaders, such as the Ecumenical Patriarch, is widely seen by these communities as being designed as much to control as to protect them. Suspicion of the authorities' intentions remains. Alevi Muslims broke off formal talks with the government over denial of their rights, expressing frustration at the lack of concrete progress in enabling them to exercise their religious freedom. Informal workshops involving representatives of the Alevis, the Diyanet and others continue. An August 2009 lunch meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and religious leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, was followed by a visit to two Greek Orthodox sites. But no concrete improvements ensued in their ability to exercise freedom of religion or belief.
The rule of law:
The Mor Gabriel cases - which started after state officials unilaterally redrew land boundaries - highlight problems around the rule of law and how society does or does not understand this, which has a serious impact on freedom of religion or belief. Another trial drifting on with no sign of a verdict is of two Turkish Protestants, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal. They are on trial for "insulting Turkishness" and defamation of Islam, following their involvement in a Bible correspondence course in October 2006. The trial in Malatya of the five men accused of murdering three Protestant Christians in 2007 has drifted on since its start in November 2007. In 2009 police have avoided bringing witnesses to court on various occasions, and no verdict appears imminent. Hopes that impunity for those who attack Christians would be over remain disappointed.
Two recent victories in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) - by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2008 and a Greek Orthodox Foundation in 2009 - have still not led to the recovery of confiscated property. The ECHR appears to be the only realistic hope of implementing in law some very important aspects of the right to exercise freedom of religion or belief - provided its judgments are implemented.
Violent attacks and murders:
The Armenian, Greek and Alevi communities have in the past been subject to mass pogroms and violent attacks that have resulted in migration of these communities inside and outside of Turkey. There have also been in the past murders of individuals for their beliefs, such as of the atheist and former imam Turan Dursan in 1990. However, a recent series of murders has drawn attention to the continuing need to address the problem of the murderous intolerance of sections of Turkish society. These murders were of: Fr Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest in 2006; the Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007; and of two ethnic Turkish Protestants, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske in Malatya in 2007. In July 2009 a Catholic German businessman engaged to an ethnic Turk, Gregor Kerkeling, was murdered by a mentally disturbed young man for being a Christian.
In August 2009 Turkish Protestant Ismail Aydin, who works for an association spreading knowledge about Christianity, was taken hostage at knifepoint. The young man responsible claimed that "this missionary dog is trying to divide the country" and wrapped a Turkish flag around Aydin's head. He was seen on TV reports telling his captor that "this flag is mine as well! I'm a Turk too, but I'm a Christian." His captor responded that "you have betrayed the Turkish flag and country". The police rescued Aydin and the attacker is being prosecuted. But the incident highlighted again the dangerous unwillingness of many within Turkey to accept that there are many ways to be a Turk.
What fuels violent attacks and murders?
Factors which encourage violence include; disinformation by public figures and the mass media; the rise of Turkish nationalism; and the marginalization of smaller groups within society. All three trends feed off each other, and all of Turkey's smaller religious or belief communities - those within Islam and Christianity, as well as Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses, atheists and agnostics - are affected by them. There has been disinformation and defamation against Christians, in particular against Protestants who share their beliefs with others in public discourse as well as in the media.
A day after the Malatya murders, Niyazi Güney, a senior Justice Ministry official, told Turkish parliamentarians that "missionary work is even more dangerous than terrorism and unfortunately is not considered a crime in Turkey". He repeated this in Milliyet newspaper. Terrorism and missionary activity are thus presented as connected. Almost any manifestation of Christian belief - including meetings in churches - is seen by those who hold these views as "missionary activity".
Missionary activity has been on the agenda of the National Security Council (MGK), which is chaired ex officio by the President and also comprises the Chief of the General Staff, the commanders of all the branches of the Turkish Armed Forces and several government ministers. In a February 2005 evaluation of current and future challenges to Turkish security, the MGK drew attention to "a need for social activities that will prevent the spreading of organizations and ideologies that will have an impact on Turkey's unity". It suggested that "abusive missionary activities should not be permitted". What exactly was meant by "abusive missionary activity" was not defined.
The Turkish phrase used for missionary activity in official discussions
and formal papers, as well as by the xenophobic and nationalist parts of
society, has extremely negative connotations. "Misyonerlik faaliyetleri"
can be translated into English as missionary activities, which does not
convey either a positive or a negative evaluation of the activities. But
"misyonerlik faaliyetleri" has in Turkish the connotations of missionary
scheming, plotting and intrigues. Both words have negative connotations in
Turkish, and used together as one phrase convey a double negative
Ergenekon and the "deep state":
The trial which began in 2007 of influential people - from the police,
army, bureaucracy, business, politics and the mass media - alleged to be
part of an ultra-nationalist group, Ergenekon, has revealed strong and
widespread opposition among them to freedom of religion or belief.
Ergenekon members are alleged to have maintained death lists of people,
including Christians with a missionary background. The Malatya murder trial
is revealing plausible links between the "deep state" and the murders,
Turkish media noting that a link between the murders and the Gendarmerie
seems obvious. The Gendarmerie, it seems, knew in advance of the murders
and did not take steps to prevent them. Also according to the media, Fr
Andrea Santoro and his church were under surveillance by the National
Intelligence Organization (MIT) secret police on the very day of his
Protestant Turks have noted a significant decline in numbers of violent attacks directed at their churches and religious leaders in 2009. This is possibly due to a decline since 2007 in defamatory mainstream media coverage of them. For example, a widely viewed national TV channel, ATV, has stopped broadcasting reports of "illegal" churches, or Turks converting to Christianity.
However, intolerant reporting and commentary continues in local and ultra-nationalist newspapers, as well as on websites and blogs. One local news website, Ilgazetesi, featured an article on 17 June 2009, entitled "Local Missionaries", stating that "The primary goal of missionary activity is to break the resistance of the people to imperialism and abuse! Making them Jewish or Christian is the second goal." The continuing intolerant mind-set of many is fuelled by such irresponsible media reports, and makes members of vulnerable groups fear that violence against them could escalate again.
No legal status as religious communities:
Full legal recognition of all religious communities would be a major step
forward in both achieving freedom of religion or belief as understood in
the human rights standards Turkey has ratified, as well as addressing the
prejudice that non-Muslim religious communities are "foreign" and not
genuinely Turkish. At present, religious communities which existed in the
Ottoman Empire operate legally under an archaic system of imperial decrees
and regulations that deny them full legal status as religious communities
and restrict their freedom to function. Communities which did not have a
recognized existence before the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 have
little hope of gaining any kind of recognized status in law. Articles 37-45
of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, on "Protection of Minorities", should have led
to the recognition of then-existing non-Muslim religious communities in
their own right, as independent communities with full legal status - such
as the right to own places of worship. But this has not happened, not least
as the Treaty left it unclear what such recognition might mean. Bizarrely,
the government ministry which handles relations with many of Turkey's
indigenous non-Muslim religious communities which existed before the
Lausanne Treaty is the Foreign Ministry.
Who can own places of worship?
An aspect of this non-recognition is that even recognized religious
communities cannot themselves own properties such as places of worship.
Bizarrely, these must be owned by separate foundations not under the direct
control of the communities. This has drawn much attention, focused on the
passage of a series of Foundation laws - none of which have solved the
Stalemate for Alevi Muslim:
Alevi Muslims form between 20 and 30 per cent of the population, but the
overwhelming majority of their places of worship - cemevi or cem houses -
are not recognized by the state. The Alevi community organized a mass
demonstration, attended by tens of thousands of Alevis on 8 November 2009
expressing their frustration that they are still not treated as citizens
with equal rights, and calling for the abolition of both the Diyanet and
compulsory religious education lessons in public schools.
Education about religion or belief:
In contrast to the children adhering to the two non-Muslim religious
communities acknowledged in the education system - Christians and Jews -
Alevis, Baha'is, children of other faiths and atheists are forced to attend
de facto Sunni religious education classes in public and private schools.
Diyanet officials have occasionally indicated that they regard Alevism as a
part of Sunni Islam and do not respect their different interpretation of
Islam. This means that Turkey has not seen any need to alter the religious
Discrimination within the public service:
It is virtually impossible to find people from non-Muslim backgrounds in
high level civil servant positions and impossible in senior ranks in the
military. While there are non-Muslims employed at lower levels there are
frequent allegations that they experience discrimination and are never
allowed to take a high ranking position. Syriac Orthodox Christians, for
example, have complained to Forum 18 that their young people are never
allowed the possibility of careers leading to senior positions in the
A 1934 Law which according to Article 174 of the Constitution may not be
altered or abolished bans wearing religious garments on the streets, with
Muslims being the initial targets. With the exception of the Ecumenical
Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch and the Chief Rabbi, no religious
minority leaders until the 1980s acted against this ban. Enforcement has
been more sporadic recently, but many religious leaders choose not to wear
religious clothes outside their place of worship, partly because of this
Law and partly - in the case of members of religious minorities - for fear
of provoking attacks. Foreign Greek, Russian and Georgian Orthodox priests
Conscientious objection to military service denied:
Conscientious objection to compulsory military service is not permitted. Conscientious objectors of military age (including among the roughly 3,000 Jehovah's Witnesses) face an unending cycle of prosecutions and imprisonments. In the ECHR case of Ülke v. Turkey (Application no. 39437/98), the Court found that such punishment was a violation of the prohibition in the European Convention of Human Rights of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Turkey continues to disregard the 17 October 2007 call of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers for it "to adopt rapidly the legislative reform necessary to prevent similar violations."
Access to the website of well-known atheist Richard Dawkins is prevented in Turkey through a court decision. His books, as also those of other atheists, are however permitted, despite legal attempts to ban them. Similarly, access to a website dedicated to Turan Dursun, a well-known Turkish atheist murdered for his beliefs in 1990, is barred.
Many people and communities have for a long time faced obstacles in
carrying out peaceful religious activity - activity that is protected in
the international freedom of religion or belief agreements that Turkey has
committed itself to. The long-standing lack of willingness to legally recognize religious communities in their own right, the disinformation by
public officials and the public education system, ultra-nationalism and
mass media intolerance behind violent attacks and murders, and the Turkish
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