Turkey’s Christians Decry Crackdown on Religious Freedom

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the talks in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Welcoming the Turkish leader in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday, Putin said their meeting is very …
Sergei Chirikov/AP Photo

A number of Christian pastors have warned of growing repression of Christianity under the rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Deutsche Welle reported Saturday.

The president of the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation (IPKV), Timur Topuz, said that Christian pastors in Turkey are facing growing hostility, especially since the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained in Turkey for nearly two years on charges of involvement in the failed July 2016 coup against President Erdoğan.

Pastor Brunson was finally released in October 2018, but only after the Trump administration put enormous pressure on the Turkish government, including the imposition of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

“Since the Brunson incident, all Protestant pastors are treated with suspicion,” Mr. Topuz observed.

A pattern is emerging of pastors and their families in Turkey who are either having their residence permits revoked or not renewed, Topuz noted, adding that “thirty five pastors of the Turkish-Protestant community are experiencing problems of this kind.”

“Pastor Carlos Madrigal, a Spaniard, has been our spiritual leader for 19 years — and has had his residence permit renewed every time by the Ministry of Labor after the state intelligence agency (MIT) gave the go-ahead,” Topuz declared, and yet after his most recent request, “it has not been renewed.”

Topuz told Deutsche Welle that he is deeply disappointed that Turkey is reining in religious freedoms, noting that “back in 2006, our church was recognized as a place of worship, which sent a strong signal that gave us hope.”

As Breitbart News reported Friday, one prominent religious scholar has insisted that President Erdoğan has been using the nation’s Christians as a “welcome scapegoat” to distract from his political blunders in Syria and Libya.

“The persecution of Christians in Turkey continues,” said Alexander Görlach, senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. “While the world is busy fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing with mass unemployment and a global recession, the Turkish government is taking advantage of the situation to further pressure minorities.”

Erdoğan has been adopting a nationalist and Islamic rhetoric, resulting in a further marginalization of Turkey’s Christians, the New York-based expert in comparative religions declared this week.

The Turkish president, in fact, has “been busy reorganizing his secular republic into a mixture of Ottomanism and Islam for some time now,” Görlach said.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, Erdoğan has tried to patch up his damaged image by playing to the religious fervor of his Islamic population, reviving plans to convert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

The sixth-century Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia was one of Christendom’s most treasured churches, but was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” after he took the city in 1453.

In 1931, Turkey’s President Atatürk turned the mosque into a museum as part of his program to modernize and secularize the country.

But now tensions are again growing between the Turkish government and the country’s small Christian population, Deutsche Welle reported Saturday, and religious freedom is once again “in jeopardy.”

A case in point is Joy Anna Crow Subasigüller, an American woman married to Turkish Christian pastor Lütfü Subasigüller. The couple have lived peacefully in Ankara for the past ten years together with their children, but recently Turkey’s migration department announced its refusal to renew her residence permit without giving any reason for the decision.

“This decision makes me very sad — I love Turkey and the Turkish people,” said the stay-at-home mother of three. “I have lived here for ten years, they were the best years of my life.”

Pastor Subasigüller claimed there is evidence suggesting that Turkey wishes to deport his wife because it deems her a threat to national security and public order because of her ties to Turkey’s Christian community, something he finds unbelievable.

“We are people who pray for our country, we do not threaten the national interest,” the pastor said.

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