Published: 00:01 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 29 March 2010
Praying for the Persecuted Church in Lent - Turkey
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 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.
Today this rich Christian heritage is mostly confined to ancient ruins. Christians make up about 0.12% of the Turkish population, as compared to 99.7% Muslims, and the majority are expatriates. From 1894 to 1923 more than 1.5 million Armenian and Assyrian Christians died in the Armenian Genocide under the Ottoman rulers of that time.
Turkey has been a secular state since 1924; however, Islam remains a major part of the identity of Turkish people. “Turkishness” is held to include being a Muslim, and Christians are seen as foreigners, even enemies to the Turkish state. Islamic and nationalist media often broadcast wildly inaccurate allegations against Christians, sometimes with serious consequences. One of the most horrific acts of anti-Christian violence occurred in April 2007, when three Christian workers, two of them Turkish converts from Islam, were murdered in Malatya by young Muslim extremists who pretended to be interested in Christianity.
Under Turkish law, religious services may take place only in designated places of worship, but minority religious groups experience difficulties in opening, maintaining, and operating them. However, in 2009 Christian leaders in Turkey marked the “Year of Paul”, the 2,000th anniversary of the year in which the apostle is believed to have been born. Many Christian groups from 30 different countries visited Tarsus, his birthplace. This prompted the Turkish government to extend indefinitely its consent for Christians to worship at the historic church in Tarsus.