Last year, an apparent attempted military coup against Turkey’s authoritarian President Erdogan triggered a massive wave of arrests as the government moved to crush those they claimed were supporters of Erdogan’s arch-rival, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who like Erdogan is an Islamist, now lives in the USA from where he controls a vast network of businesses and schools promoting Islam across the world. Although Turkey has a secular constitution, Islam is central to many Turks’ perception of their national identity; Christians and other minorities are treated with suspicion and in recent years some believers have been martyred. In the aftermath of the
coup attempt there were several attacks on churches.
In April 2016, the government took control of six church buildings in south-eastern Turkey, claiming that the seizures were part of a wider campaign against Kurdish separatists. The Turkish authorities have a long history of seizing churches and other Christian property. Authorities already strictly regulate churches’ ownership of property and closely monitor church activity, including evangelism and leadership training. In 1914, there were up to 3 million Christians in what is now Turkey. Today, there are fewer than 150,000 as a result of persecution, especially the genocide waged against Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians, which peaked in 1915. In addition to the historical Christian communities, there are now also younger churches of Turkish converts from Islam.
President Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to re-create the Ottoman Empire, which came to an end in 1922, and at its height controlled vast swathes of the Middle East. Turkey’s increasing involvement in the conflict in Iraq and Syria is also affecting believers. Thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christian refugees have fled to Turkey and many report being ostracised by the Muslim communities in which they have been housed. In some cases they have been physically assaulted.
Pray that President Erdogan’s programme of Islamisation, which is particularly focused on the young, will be restrained and for bold voices of opposition to not be quieted by repression. Pray that restrictions on Christians will be reversed and that believers will no longer be portrayed negatively in the media and school text-books.