Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Also known as the new Christians in Turkey, they are a heterodox group made up of Presbyterians and Protestants. This group includes both citizens and expatriates. The estimated number of Protestants in Turkey is 4,000–6,000, most of whom live in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Protestantism has been a part of Turkey’s history for 200 years, first spreading among the non-Muslim minorities. Conversion from Islam to Protestantism was very rare until the 1960s, but Muslim converts currently constitute the majority of Protestants. They fall outside the protection of the Treaty of Lausanne and as such suffer similiarly in the negation of their identities as other non Muslim minorities including Assyrians, Bahais, Georgians, Maronite Christians and Ezidis.
New Christians are having significant difficulties in exercising their religious freedoms. On the one hand, an amendment to a prohibitive zoning law (Law No. 5006, 3 December 2003, Art. 2) replaced the term ‘mosque’ with ‘place of worship’ in authorizing local authorities to issue construction permits. This effectively granted non-Muslims the right to build places of worship. However, Protestants face bureaucratic restrictions. For example, according to the Turkey Union of Protestant Churches, in late March 2007, a municipality in Turkey replied after a considerable delay to the application of a Protestant church for a construction permit, advising the community to apply to the Diyanet (the highest Islamic religious authority in Turkey, and an institution of the Turkish government) instead.
Updated June 2015
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