Churches in Turkey on the Verge of Extinction

While Eastern Orthodox Christians recently celebrated their Easter holy week, a historical Church in Istanbul — the once magnificent Christian city of Constantinople — is witnessing yet another abuse at the hands of its current authorities.

“The historic Istanbul cathedral and museum, Hagia Sophia, witnessed its first Quran recitation under its roof after 85 years Saturday,” reported the state-run Anatolian News Agency of Turkey. “The Religious Affairs Directorate launched the exhibition “Love of Prophet,” as part of commemorations of the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad.”

Even though Christians are a tiny minority in Turkey today, Christianity has a long history in Asia Minor, the birthplace of many Christian Apostles and Saints, including Paul of Tarsus, Timothy, Nicholas of Myra, and Polycarp of Smyrna.

All of the first seven Ecumenical Councils were held in present-day Turkey. Two out of the five centers (Patriarchates) of the ancient Pentarchy – Constantinople (Istanbul) and Antioch (Antakya) – are also situated there. Antioch was the place where, for the first time, the followers of Jesus were called “Christians.”

Turkey is also home to the Seven Churches of Asia, where were sent the Revelations to John. During the centuries that followed, countless churches were established throughout the region.

Today, Turkey has a smaller percentage of its Christian population than any of its neighbors – less than Syria, Iraq and Iran. The greatest cause of this was the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek slaughters or genocides between 1915 and 1923.

At least 2.5 million native Christians of Asia Minor were killed — either massacred outright, or became victims of deportations, slave labor or death marches. Many of them died in concentration camps of diseases or starvation.

Many Greeks who survived the slaughter were driven from their homes in Asia Minor in the 1923 forcible population exchange between Turkey and Greece.

The physical devastation was followed by a cultural devastation. Throughout the history of the Turkish Republic, countless Christian churches and schools have been destroyed or turned into mosques, storehouses and stables among other things.

The columnist Raffi Bedrosyan reported in the Armenian Weekly that

“There are only 34 churches and 18 schools left in Turkey today, mostly in Istanbul, with about less than 3,000 students in these schools.”

“Recent research pegs the number of Armenian churches in Turkey before 1915 at around 2,300. The number of schools before 1915 is estimated at nearly 700, with 82,000 students. These numbers are only for churches and schools under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and the Apostolic Church, and therefore do not include the numerous churches and schools belonging to the Protestant and Catholic Armenian parishes.”

Walter Flick, a scholar with the International Society for Human Rights in Germany, says that the Christian minority in Turkey does not enjoy the same rights as the Muslim majority.

“Turkey has almost 80 million inhabitants,” he said. “There are only around 120,000 Christians, which is less than 1 percent of the population. Christians are certainly seen as second-class citizens. A real citizen is Muslim, and those who aren’t Muslim are seen as suspicious.”

According to a 2014 survey, 89 % of the Turkish population said that what defines a nation is belonging to a certain religion. Among the 38 countries that participated in the question: Who believes in the importance of belonging to a specific religion [Islam] in defining the concept of a nation, Turkey [for Turkishness], with 89% of its population agreeing, ranked number one in the world. [3]

“In some ways, Ankara’s policies against Turkey’s Christian citizens have added a modern veneer and sophisticated brutality to Ottoman norms and practices,” wrote political scientist Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou and historian Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou. In the words of an anonymous Church hierarch in Turkey fearful for the life of his flock, Christians in Turkey are an endangered species.”

Sadly, Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, and reportedly a candidate for membership in the European Union, has largely succeeded in destroying the entire Christian cultural heritage of Asia Minor.

Full article: Churches in Turkey on the Verge of Extinction (The Gateway Institute)

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