Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Lisa Navarrette, ICC Fellow

There has been a steady increase in human rights abuses in Turkey in recent years, specifically targeting Christians. How does a secular democratic nation go from religious freedom protection to religious freedom abuses? It appears that when countries align themselves with Islamic Law, religious minorities face persecution.  

Take Egypt, for example. Coptic Christians in Egypt are the largest minority group in Egypt and make up the largest Christian group in the Middle East. Though they are a minority, they are no immigrants. Even before they were Christian, their bloodlines date back to the pharaohs. Many Christian sites in Egypt mark the location of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s stay in Egypt. Under the rule of Emperor Diocletian, hundreds of thousands of Coptics were massacred in 302 AD.  

During the 1950s, Coptics and Muslims alike promoted a united Egypt and led anti-colonialist movements. Then, the Muslim majority began to promote the Egyptian national identity as being inherently Islamic. Religious courts, including independent Coptic courts, were abolished. When Israel became a nation in 1948, Coptics were targeted as sympathizers. Many fled the persistent persecution and immigrated to other countries. Those who remained saw their religious freedoms erode. The introduction of Article II of the Constitution in 1971 codified that Egyptian law follows Islamic law. This article became the basis of many unjust and discriminatory legal, social, and political trends.[i] 

Today, Coptics endure many hardships, including discrimination and persecution because of their faith. A church bombing in 2017 killed 44 people and injured more than 100. [ii] When terrorists bomb churches, they are rarely held accountable. In fact, many churches are not allowed to rebuild. Instead of the government prosecuting those who attack churches, they deny building permits and jail those who begin repairs. When churchgoers protest their infringement of rights, they are met with the force of the Egyptian police and military.  

Being Christian in Egypt is a generational sentence of lower-class citizenship, poor education, lack of opportunity, and poverty. Christian children receive substandard education, which is why International Christian Concern (ICC) runs Hope House, an after-school instructional program to provide additional learning support. They also provide vocational training and small business loans to help break the cycle of poverty for Christians in Egypt. [iii]  

Unfortunately, Turkey appears to be heading in the same direction as Egypt. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey mimicked the governments of France, Germany, and Italy by establishing a secular democracy and codified human rights laws. [iv]  This made Turkey unique because even though it was a majority Muslim country, it did not follow Islamic or Shariah Law.  

There are 81.5 million people in Turkey. The majority are Turkish, with nearly one-fifth being Kurdish. Most residents are Muslims. Turkey has welcomed many refugees in recent years and is now the largest host of refugees worldwide.v Over 3.6 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey. These refugees are not housed in camps but are assimilated into Turkish neighborhoods. The arrival of Syrian refugees has become entangled with the existing identity debates and conflicts in Turkish politics as to the reconstruction of the country among more Islamic lines. [vi] 

Turkey suffers from corrupt government officials, and even the current president supports an Islamic-Turk national identity, thereby cutting out the Kurds and religious minorities. In the early 2010s, the people of Turkey voiced their concerns over government corruption, which eventually led to the failed coup in 2016. Many presidents lose power under such conditions, but President Erdogan took a hard-lined approach to maintain order. He suppressed all opposition movements and enacted specific laws to silence any further opposition. [vii] According to news accounts, even opposing politicians have and are continuing to disappear into Turkey’s massive new prison system. [viii] 

Turkey has added significant numbers to the inmate population by creating an increasingly punitive state and penal regime. [ix] Turkish prisons are seriously overcrowded, with many detainees in pre-trial detention waiting for their cases to come before the court. Though a democratic country that follows the rule of law, brutality and torture of people detained in police stations, jails, and prisons is common. [x] In democratic countries, one would look to the impartial judiciary for justice; however, the judiciary in Turkey can be of no assistance because it is also corrupt and under the control of the Minister of Justice.   

The judiciary receives low salaries, which may contribute to bribery and corruption. The state and the wealthy are favored in judicial decisions because of the informal system of punishment and reward for judges. They are often promoted or demoted depending on their rulings. The current judicial state usurps the rule of law and is in opposition to democracy. [xi] The international community has warned that the lack of open information about court proceedings, disciplining of members of the judiciary, and political influence over the judiciary is the reason why the rule of law is ignored and human rights abuses occur. [xii] 

National and international organizations have criticized Turkey for recent human rights abuses. [xiii] The legal status of Christian citizens and their institutions is being suppressed. Turkey has labeled foreign missionaries as adversaries. Christians are facing persecution in education, media, and society. Children are taught anti-Christian propaganda in schools, and those who oppose these abuses are charged and/or imprisoned for crimes against the government. [xiv] The recounting of Turkish history has been revised to leave Christians out. [xv] The government has recruited Christian informants and restricted church services. [xvi] The Hagia Sofia, a one-time cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site, was converted into a mosque last year. Other important Christian sites are vandalized, demolished, or neglected.  

As the international community has stated, the judiciary must become fully independent, which would create a check on the other government branches and ensure human rights. Most countries would receive heavy sanctions for growing corruption and abuses, but Turkey has not. In fact, the opposite has been true. Transparency International found that foreign investment and the economy continued to flourish in years when corruption was rampant. [xvii] There is an ever-increasing Muslim push to incorporate Islamic law into the government while simultaneously expanding the authoritarian government that is suppressing free speech and human rights. Let us hope, for our Christian brothers and sisters, that Turkey changes course and does not end up being the next Egypt. 

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1 [i] Harvard Divinity School. (2023). Coptic Christianity in Egypt.

[ii] Gaballa, A., & Tolba, A. (2017, April 9). Palm Sunday bombings of Egyptian Coptic churches kill 44. Reuters.
Catholic News Agency. (2023, June 20). Watch groups: Christians in Turkey face suppression, exploitation. Catholic News Agency.

[iii] International Christian Concern. (2023). Transform Lives Through Hope House. International Christian Concern.

[iv] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems : a comparative survey. New York , London Routledge.

[v] The UN Refugee Agency. (2022). Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Turkey -. UNHCR; UNHCR.

[vi] Polat, R. K. (2018). Religious solidarity, historical mission and moral superiority: construction of external and internal “others” in AKP’s discourses on Syrian refugees in Turkey. Critical Discourse Studies, 15(5), 500– 516.

[vii] Onbaşı, N. (2019). The role of populist strategies in differing outcomes of corruption scandals in Brazil and Turkey. Turkish Studies, 21(2), 188–207.

[viii] Blaser, N. (2021, August 8). “We Fell Off the Face of the Earth.” Foreign Policy.

[ix] Atak, K. (2019). Beyond the western crime drop: Violence, property offences, and the state in Turkey 1990–2016. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 60, 100373.

[x] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[xi] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[xii] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[xiii] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[xiv] Catholic News Agency. (2023, June 20). Watch groups: Christians in Turkey face suppression, exploitation. Catholic News Agency.

[xv] Catholic News Agency. (2023, June 20). Watch groups: Christians in Turkey face suppression, exploitation. Catholic News Agency.

[xvi] International Christian Concern. (2021, May 23). Turkey’s Treatment of Protestant Christians Reported to Human
Rights Committee. International Christian Concern.

[xvii] Sekreter, A. (2018). Corruption and Macroeconomic Indicators of Turkey: A Comparison of 2011-2012-2013 and
2014-2015-2016. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies, 5(1), 206–210. /