Religious Freedom

A religious tragedy of historic magnitude is taking place in Turkey, but it receives little media attention. The world’s oldest Christian church is under threat of extinction.

The Turkish government must cease its control over the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is located in Istanbul, Turkey. It is the seat of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the world’s Orthodox Christians. In direct violation of international laws on religious freedom, the government of Turkey denies the Patriarch fundamental religious rights.

Turkey refuses to grant a legal personality to the Patriarchate or recognize its ecumenical role, and has taken extraordinary steps to repress the Patriarchate. It shut down the Halki School of Theology, it seized property belonging to the Patriarchate, and it requires that clerics have Turkish citizenship before they are able to succeed the Ecumenical Patriarch. This requirement presents an unnecessary burden for the Greek Orthodox community, and has been perceived as a means to control the outcome of future elections.

Turkey must re-open the Halki School of Theology

In 1971, the Turkish government arbitrarily shut down Halki Seminary, the sole seminary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1844. The closure of Halki prevents the Ecumenical Patriarchate from training its next generation of leaders, and infringes upon the religious freedom of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. Despite a number of promises and assurances from Ankara, Halki remains shut to this day. Its continued closure stands as a grim symbol of the plight of religious minorities in the greater Middle East.

Turkey must respect the rights of its religious minorities

There are less than 200,000 religious minorities in Turkey, and treatment of these groups has worsened under Erdogan’s government. In its latest report, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern in the past that the overall landscape for democracy and human rights, while warning that the state of religious freedom in Turkey remains deeply troubling. USCIRF highlighted the lack of any meaningful progress on the part of the Turkish government to address long standing religious freedom issues. Turkey denies the full legal status of religious groups, anti-Semitism and societal discrimination toward those who practice a minority religions are on the rise, and serious religious freedom violations in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus are an ongoing problem.