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2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Turkey (Türkiye)

The constitution defines the country as a secular state. It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds. The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions. The penal code prohibits blasphemy and provides punishment for “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs, and it criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion.” Government guidelines issued in June define criteria that enable minority religious foundations to elect their governing boards, with some conditions and restrictions.

According to media reports, an Istanbul court gave a deferred sentence to a flight attendant for his social media photograph that showed him drinking alcohol on the Islamic holy night of Eid al-Qadr (Kadir in Turkish). The court case continued of the nine Kurdish imams arrested in 2021 on terrorism-related charges for preaching in their native language. The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect,” categorized Alevi worship as cultural rather than religious, and did not recognize Alevi houses of worship. Media outlets and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported continued entry bans and deportations of noncitizen leaders of Protestant congregations. On May 25, a district municipality of Istanbul demolished the Meryem Ana Tomb, despite protests by Alevis, who consider it sacred. The government completed restoration of two Armenian churches, where the Armenian Patriarch presided over Mass. In June, Orthodox Syriacs reopened a church closed since 1915. The Bodrum municipality restored a Jewish cemetery and Izmir municipality continued to renovate several synagogues and Jewish sites as an open-air museum. The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy domestically, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed. According to the Jerusalem Post, in January, pro government Turkish media published an article stating that “Jewish influence” was involved in the “Armenian deportation,” a reference to the Armenian genocide following World War I. In July, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism instructed provincial governors to engage with the Alevi community during the holy month of Muharram.

According to media reports, acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued. Local media reported that on July 30, the first day of the holy month of Muharram, assailants attacked six Alevi institutions and cemevis (Alevi houses of worship) in Ankara. In July, the country’s Jewish Community tweeted unidentified individuals had damaged 36 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Hasköy, Istanbul. There were reports of vandalism targeting Christian elements of the Hagia Sophia, which the government reconverted to a mosque in 2020. In April, an Agos (Armenian Turkish newspaper) columnist referenced a swastika drawn on the gate of the Bomonti Mihitaryan Armenian school in Istanbul and stated there was a need to improve education on the Holocaust and other genocides committed throughout history. Antisemitic discourse and hate speech continued in social and print media. In May, a Jewish Community website warned that a group was circulating antisemitic messages on social media targeting two hospitals where management reportedly did not permit women staff to wear Islamic headscarves. According to the Jewish website, a Jewish manager was singled out for imposing the reported policy.

In September, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom discussed protection of religious minorities and refugees fleeing religious persecution with government leaders, civil society, and diverse faith communities in Ankara and Istanbul. The U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Diyanet and the Directorate General of Foundations (DGF), to discuss religious freedom issues, including religious education. Embassy and consulate general officials met with a wide range of Islamic religious leaders and religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Baha’i Faith communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance, as well as to discuss challenges in managing foundation elections, maintaining properties and communities under pressures of declining populations, and seeking equal recognition and full and equal latitude of activity among all faiths.

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