Of a total population of 82 million the government indicates that 99 per cent of the population is Muslim, mostly Hanafi Sunni. There are significant minorities of Alevis and Shi’as. There are small communities of various Christian groups, mainly Orthodox, also Jews and Bahá’ís. A January 2019 survey suggested 3 per cent of the population self-identified as atheist and 2 per cent as nonbelievers.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
Turkey’s long-standing freedom of religion or belief problems impact groups and individuals from diverse religious or belief backgrounds as well as atheists and agnostics. The deterioration of human rights protection in recent years, “as restrictive government and judicial actions have progressively affected large strata of society”, resulted in no steps being taken to rectify the situation and an increased vulnerability of religious or belief groups.
In Turkey no religious or belief community has legal personality, per se. This affects all religious or belief communities in the exercise of their right to freedom of religion or belief in its collective dimension. The non-Muslim community foundations’ right to elect new board members has been obstructed since 2013 causing these communities’ right to association to be practically suspended.
Despite the Turkish Constitutional Court’s ruling that the Government has violated Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution protecting freedom of religion and conscience by interfering in the internal affairs of the Armenian community, the Government still intervened in the election process of the 85th Patriarch of the Armenian community.
Turkey is yet to effectively enforce numerous European Court of Human Rights judgments and take general measures to prevent similar violations from occurring; measures must be taken to ensure that the education system respects the right of parents to raise their children in line with their religious or philosophical views (this impacts, among others, Alevis, atheist and agnostics, Sunni Muslims critical of school teaching on religion), the right to conscientious objection to military service must be recognized, places of worship must be able to acquire legal status without discrimination (among others, Alevi cem houses, Protestant churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls); the religious identification on national ID cards must be removed and discrimination against the Alevi community in the provision of religious services needs to be corrected.
Religious and ethnic groups – in particular Jews, Armenians, Christians and Greeks – continue to be targeted with hate speech in the media.
The Government has taken measures – albeit late – to restore Armenian Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakır, however the restoration has not been completed and the Armenian community still does not have access to the church.
Many Muslims have welcomed the conversions of the Hagia Sophia and the Chora museums into mosques. However, many Christians and others have viewed the conversions as actions attempting to erase the Christian and secular heritage of the country and the reflection and continuation of a “conquest” mentality that is not compatible with equality of all.
The strong religious nationalism in society puts a lot of pressure on Christians – it is widely believed that a true Turk must be a Sunni Muslim. Christians from Muslim backgrounds often hide their faith. If they are discovered, they will face pressure from their families. Leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of their Turkish identity and a source of shame to the family. They may be threatened with divorce and the loss of inheritance rights.
In 2020, dozens of foreign Christians in Turkey were forced to leave the country or banned from returning in what appears to be government targeting of the Protestant Christian community.
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