Amid growing calls from Turkey’s Islamists to ensconce Islam in the nation’s constitution, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emphasized the importance of secularism in the Ankara government, rejecting these calls.
“My views are known on this. … The reality is that the state should have an equal distance from all religious faiths. … This is laicism,” said Erdoğan on television when he visited Zagreb.
Ismail Kahraman, the speaker of the Turkish Parliament, said the country needs a religious constitution. “It should be a new and religious constitution. Secularism should not be in the new constitution,” he insisted.
He added, “As a Muslim country, why should we be in a situation where we are retreating from religion? We are a Muslim country. So we must have a religious constitution.” The remarks prompted immediate controversy.
“We have not discussed omitting secularism from the draft constitution,” declared Mustafa Şentop, the chairman of the Parliament’s Constitution Commission and AK Party Istanbul deputy. “The parliament speaker does not speak on behalf of the [AK] party. Secularism is maintained in our constitution proposal.”
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also promised secularism in the new constitution.
“Secularism will feature in the new constitution we draft as a principle that guarantees citizens’ freedom of religion and faith and that ensures the state is at an equal distance from all faith groups,” he said.
However, practices within the Turkish government suggest things may not change even with secularism in the constitution. Persecution has forced 45,000 Christians who fled the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria to hide their true identities and act as Muslims.
Turkey has prominence in Christian history since “the apostle Paul and Timothy were born there and the city of Antioch, now Antakya, was known as the ‘cradle of Christianity.’” More than 100 years ago, the Ottoman Empire committed the Armenian Genocide, killing an excess of 1.5 Armenians, mostly Christians, as they forced the countrymen to leave Turkey.
My family was originally from [the southeastern Turkish province of] Van. My husband’s family came from [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep. My husband and I fled [Iraq] with our two children one year ago with around 20 other families. There was pressure on us in Iraq.
The Christian population of Turkey is evaporating rapidly. The nation, a NATO member since 1952, has experienced a reduction in its Christian population from 20 percent 100 years ago to only 0.2 percent today. That change came into stark relief at the Hagia Sophia during Easter Holy Week in April 2015.
Istanbul was once known as Constantinople, founded by Roman Emperor Constantine in 324. He made it the capital of Rome before it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. They made it their capital until the empire collapsed after World War I. Modern day Turkey officially renamed it Istanbul in 1923.
Turkey changed the name, but current officials have clearly indicated a desire to return to the Islamist state established under the Ottoman Empire.
The Turkish Council of Ministers, for example, formed the Istanbul Conquest Society to help organize a yearly event to celebrate the conquest of Constantinople. As columnist Constantine Tzanos asks, “Why would anyone want to celebrate the conquest which not only by itself was a great human catastrophe, but it was also the precursor to many such catastrophes up to the very recent past?”
The Ottomans terrorized the Balkans, killing anyone who did not convert to Islam. Historian H. Gandev believes “2,608 Bulgarian villages disappeared,” while the “rural population decreased by a total of 112,144 households (or approximately 560,000 people).”
The post-Ottoman Turkish government repeated their predecessor’s history with the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian genocides in Asia Minor, which led to the deaths of more than three million people.
Turkey became a mostly Muslim country due to a “population exchange” with Greece. In 1923, “more than a million Greeks were forced out of Turkey to Greece while 300,000 Muslims from Greece were relocated here,” writes Cengiz Aktar. The Greeks who stayed faced massive taxes and anti-Greek programs, which eventually forced them out.