Turkey’s Nation of Faiths

March 2, 2012

Turkey’s Nation of Faiths

by (03-02-12) in Ankara

After decades of official neglect and mistrust, Turkey has taken several steps to ensure the rights of the country’s non-Muslim religious minorities, and thus to guarantee that the rule of law is applied equally for all Turkish citizens, regardless of individuals’ religion, ethnicity, or language.

Turkey’s religious minorities include Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Assyrian, Kaldani, and other Christian denominations, as well as Jews, all of whom are integral parts of Turkish society.

As part of the Turkish government’s new initiative to end any sort of discrimination against these non-Muslim communities, President Abdullah Gül has emphasized that message by receiving Bartholemew, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul, and by visiting a church and a synagogue in Hatay – a first by a Turkish president.

In August 2009, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with leaders of religious minorities on Büyükada, the largest of the Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara, and listened to their problems and concerns, a clear signal of his government’s intent to buttress their sense of civil inclusion. As Deputy Prime Minister, I met with representatives of religious minorities in March 2010, and visited the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Patriarchies in 2010 and 2011. Likewise, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bağış, has met with these communities’ leaders on several occasions.

Beyond establishing warm relations between the Turkish government and the country’s religious minorities, official policy has been changing as well. In May 2010, Prime Minister Erdoğan issued an official statement that warned public servants and citizens against any discrimination against religious minorities, and that emphasized the absolute equality of Turkey’s non-Muslim citizens.

But the groundwork for the initiative of recent years was laid long before. In August 2003, the Erdoğan-led government introduced legal changes to resolve property-rights issues related to religious minority associations. For the first time in the Republic’s history, 365 landholdings and buildings belonging to the minority communities were legally registered under their name. In 2008, the government, despite fierce opposition from other political parties, changed the Law of Associations and allowed religious-minority associations to purchase real estate (and to receive contributions, regardless of size, from abroad).

Then, in August 2011, an important amendment to the Associations law mandated the return of more than 350 properties to religious minorities. As part of these changes, the Greek-Orthodox Girls School in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, and the Jewish Community Center in Izmir have been granted legal status, ending a century-old dispute.

Even before that, in November 2010, the Greek-Orthodox Orphanage on Halki Island was returned to the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchy. In order to facilitate their religious duties, the Orthodox metropolitans were granted Turkish citizenship. Furthermore, the Associations Council, the country’s highest authority on religious associations, now includes for the first time a non-Muslim member representing minority faiths.

Moreover, the Directorate-General of Associations has been charged with the task of renovating houses of worship used by religious minorities, including the historic Aya Nikola Church in Gökçeada Çanakkale, and the Assyrian Catholic Church and Greek Catholic Church in Iskenderun. A number of other churches and synagogues are also under renovation.

The authorities have taken many other historically and symbolically important steps as well. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has renovated the Panagia Sümela Monastery, a 1,600-year-old church in Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. The first mass in decades was held in August 2010, led by Bartholomew and attended by hundreds of worshippers from Greece, Russia, Georgia, Europe, the United States, and Turkey.

Another milestone was the renovation and opening of the 1,100-year old Armenian Aghtamar Church in March 2007. The first mass in 95 years was held in the church, led by the Armenian Archbishop Aram Ateşyan and attended by thousands of worshippers.

These measures have been taken to address the long-standing problems of Turkey’s non-Muslim religious minorities. Turkish Muslims have lived with Jewish and Christian communities for centuries and treated them with respect and compassion. We are determined to solve their remaining problems, and we believe that we can do so through mutual trust and cooperation. Turkey’s Jews and Christians are full citizens with equal rights, and we will work to ensure that this reality is recognized in all areas of the country’s life.

Bülent Arınç is Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

31 thoughts on “Turkey’s Nation of Faiths

  1. “After decades of official neglect and mistrust, Turkey has taken several steps to ensure the rights of the country’s non-Muslim religious minorities, and thus to guarantee that the rule of law is applied equally for all Turkish citizens, regardless of individuals’ religion, ethnicity, or language.”–Bulent Arinc

    What about ending Ketuanan Melayu and our discriminatory policies against minorities and making sure that the Rule of Law is applied equally to all Malaysian citizens? Follow Turkey’s pluralism and modernist Islam and I think we will be a great nation in Southeast Asia and respected by the rest of the world. Both Gul and Erdogan are showing the rest of the Muslim world that there is no alternative to openness and democracy based on the Rule of Law. What do you think, Semper and Bean et.al.?–Din Merican

  2. Din,
    After reading this posting by no less than the DPM of Turkey, which reflects the political and religious maturity of Turkey, and the ongoing reforms in Burma, I cry “Quo vadis” my country under BN_UMNO, whose policies, actions and programmes are tearing the nation apart along ethnic and religious lines.
    Si rusa, soon Bean will be after you in a faggotty way. What is happening to your mamak UMNO fellas in Penang? They want to be more Malay than the Malays. To prove their point, they have become gangsters.–Din Merican

  3. After several years of faltering steps, Turkey has today got it about right on most of the questions facing this multi-faceted country. And the reasons are not difficult to discern. The Turks are what I would call, perhaps the best examples of modern Muslims… middle-of-the road with a live and let live way of life. (Remember, we too had such values once).

    The road they have chosen will be long and not without difficulty. But if the people give current leaders the time, Turkey will prevail.

    But I wish they and Greece would put aside their blind spots to each other. Turkey is well positioned to take the first steps. And if they look carefully, Greece and Turkey have a lot more affinity than say Greece with Europe… a Europe that promised it prosperity but has delivered only misery.

  4. For anyone interested in Turkey I recommend BBC HARDTALK interview with Turkey’s Minister of EU Affairs, aired earlier today (Friday 2nd. March).

  5. Never dream to be treated equally from UMNoes BN as long they hold on to the ketuanan Melayu concept…just wondering how nice Malaysia will be if everybody is treated fairly and equally…at least Turkey has already made the first move as it proves how beautiful Islam is in Turkey.

  6. Turkey has a well articulated foreign policy, but what about Malaysia? Just compare Ahmet with Anfiah and you will know why I criticised Wisma Putra and our Foreign Minister.–Din Merican

  7. Race and religion are mere tools to divide and rule Malaysia. Not only there are Malays but also Chinese, Indians and many others who profess to being Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, agnostics and atheists collaborating with one another in BN.

    At the end of the day, it all boils down to power and wealth. BN’s present mantra: Lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu; kita sama-sama sapu 1Malaysia !

  8. Hold on to your panties, if not horses. I certainly hope what has be enthused is true, cuz the last time i heard, the fanatics murdered some evangelical pastors without the perpetrators apprehended. Why does Turkey deny the Armenian Genocide that happened early last century? Because it was the Ottomans?

    For a counterpoint:

  9. Islam in Turkey is a contradiction. Although 95% of its population are Muslims, it has no official religion. Officially, Turkey is a secular state following Kemal Ataturk’s reforms in the 1920s. The observance of Islamic practices were frowned upon and some were even outlawed. Many Muslims in Turkey practice Islam nominally. The armed forces took the role as guardians of secularism.

    From the 1980s, there is a renewal of Islam in Turkey which met with strong resistance especially from the military. The Welfare Party was even banned because of its outward Islamic agenda. Its off-spring, AKP now governs Turkey. Gul and Erdogan promote Islam in its substance rather than form.

    In PAS, the internal conflict is between the conservatives with priority in forms and the so-called professional-led ‘Erdogan’ faction which focuses more on substance like justice, good governance, non-discriminatory etc etc in Islam.

    It is paradoxical that UMNO is teaming up with certain conservative elements in PAS and the newly formed Hasan Ali’s JATI, to bring down the ‘Erdogan’ faction in PAS.

    “What about ending Ketuanan Melayu and our discriminatory policies against minorities…” -Dato

    Tun Razak and Mahathir used the racial card to bring down Tunku Abdul Rahman in an UMNO power struggle; which led to May 13. They projected Tunku as the ‘Chinese-loving’ PM. Since race was the issue used, the NEP was formulated to help the poor Malays instead of it being race-blind.

    Mahathir during his era, hijacked the NEP to enrich his cronies which also include the non-Malays. Najib recently brought this message home by reminding the Chinese billionaires that they owed their status to UMNO-BN.

    Now besides race, religion and royalty have also been brought into the power equation.To UMNO-BN, race and religion are mere tools to be used to perpetuate its power.

    As I said before; if people choose to be blind or as Samad Said said ‘cari makan’, the country will only go one-way… tumbling down. Of course there is gerrymandering and election fraud but there is still a substantial group that is continuing to vote for BN and there is also a substantial group that don’t bother to vote or even to register as voters.

    Do something about it or we just deserve the government we get.

    Instead, we are still being played into the hands of the divisive politics of UMNO-BN. Some of the non-Malays who previously were blind but miraculously regain their sights during the last GE seem to derive some pleasure at bashing Malays and Islam. This will only cause the Malays already in the opposition back into the arms of UMNO-BN. We should all instead unite and focus at bringing down UMNO-BN instead of deriding each other race or religion.

  10. Two converts from Islam to Christianity now facing jail sentences up to three years in Turkey? For insulting Islam? Now where do we find similar cases? If not in moderate Muslim Malaysia? Four Kelantanese Malays were prosecuted and spent three years in jail for exercising their free speech right, their constitutional right to freedom of religion. Prosecuted? Suggesting that laws have been broken. What law? Article 11 provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion and (subject to applicable laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims) to propagate it. The prohibition refers to the proselytization of Muslims by non-Muslims. Fair enough. Because constitutional provisions were incorporated as part of the so-called ‘social contract’ underlying the country’s Constitution meant to safeguard the constitutional position of Islam which is the religion of the federation (and you may want to add not a ‘state religion’). That case went to the highest court in the country and before a panel of four learned looking federal justices who could do with an extra pair of cojones, succumbed to the now classic ‘kecut teloq’ syndrome – and predictably so. These clowns refused to answer the sixty four million dollar question that would have freed these poor unfortunate souls who merely wanted to be left alone to practice their religion, but instead kicked the ball to the country’s syariah court for an opinion. And guess what? When the case came before the country’s syariah court, another clown and predictably said there is nothing under syariah law that would allow him to let Malays deemed Muslims under the law convert out of Islam. Deemd Muslims under the law? Guess where reliance is placed if not on an obscure provision meant to provide clarification: Article 160(2) Federal Constitution 1957.

    At that point not even Guru Nanak nor learned counsel Jaswant Singh could do anything. Goolbatok, with eyes focussed elsewhere, interested only in conserving his energy by lifting one cheek at a time, is too preoccupied.

    Lim Kit Siang of DAP? Lim Guan Eng? Who spent jail time under the country’s dreaded security law, the Internal Security Act, for trying to free a minor from the clutches of an UMNO pedophile in the mid ’80s? DAP the party that spent a good part of a century championing the rights of non-Malays and their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association and now sees itself as a party for all Malaysians? DAP will never touch the issue of freedom of religion for the Malays because it is one political hot potato. We already know that. Would we see a change under the Pakatan government? You gotta be kiddin’.

    And so I say to Lina Joy, putting a good distance between yourself and the likes of Ibrahim Ali would be a joy to all those who share your pain.

  11. “Would we see a change under the Pakatan government? You gotta be kiddin’.”

    You still believe in miracles? I don’t.

    Getting PR elected as the federal government is just a start. It is a strong message to all politicians that Malaysians are ready to change the government and will do it again and again (which they have never done before).

    If ever PR gets to form the government, then the next crucial step is to pressure it to work in restoring the independence of the judiciary and the civil service.

    Politicians being politicians crave for power. With unbridled power comes greed, abuse and corruption. It is us, the ordinary rakyat to take up the responsibility to keep politicians in check.

    If not, we deserve the type of government we are getting.

  12. “Arab Muslims had killed millions of Persians, Tajiks, Afghans, Jews blah..blah blah”

    I guess while they were doing the killings, none of them were killed in the process. It must be an Islamic miracle.

    Wars are wars. Isn’t it so simplistic to blame wars on religions. Man has been killing each other from the beginning; with or without religion. Period.

    You must be kidding that people who believe in God without religion; does not have the killing capability in their DNA !!

  13. Robert,

    Are you implying that if we all join you in believing ‘God without religion’, all the killings and evil in this world will miraculously stopped?

    Get real, man !!

  14. Politicians being politicians crave for power. With unbridled power comes greed, abuse and corruption. It is us, the ordinary rakyat to take up the responsibility to keep politicians in check. — Jamal Majid

    Tell us something we don’t know and I will tell you what I know.

  15. “Tell us something we don’t know and I will tell you what I know”-Mr Bean

    Is this not a discussion? So what’s wrong in Repeating what’s known? So start telling us something that you know that we don’t already know? So far whatever you’ve spewed are things that we too already know!!!!

  16. Robert is one of those God believing chaps who is a Blank Slate. The Word is forever, written and erased at the same time. A true adherent of Unfathom-o-logy. What John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), would call ‘Prevenient Grace” that does nothing.

    The Muslims believe in a Personal but Transcendent Allah, The Christians, a super-personal, immanent God of the Trinity in Unity.
    The Jews, a personal God of the Law and Faith. Hinduism, a Pantheistic, absolutely unknowable Monad who is revealed in a Triad, Polytheism and Avatars.

    Agnostics will believe in any god that is not God. One cannot believe in God without a system of belief and faith, otherwise it becomes gobbledygook.

    I think what many people misunderstand is the difference between Organized Religion, Liturgy, Religiosity and the Yearning of their Souls. Spirituality as in Tantric/Kundalini Yoga? Pitiful. So tell us your “System”, robert. Is it Quantum, Relativism or Newtonian?

  17. No real need to go into all that philosophical vocabulary to tackle this business about religion. A simpler answer is sufficient if we accept that FAITH is a purely personal matter and religion (organised or otherwise)
    therefore has no place in the organisation of societies…

    I think that is what our friend ROBERT was saying in his final sentence,

  18. That is a DOGMATIC sentence Isa, by itself. Comprendo?
    That is why it is insensate and irrational, and having to view it so many times it becomes ridiculous. If Religion is to be personal belief, then what is this flur posting, if it weren’t his Religion?

    Btw, when did comparative religion descend into “philosophy’? You need a course in Semantics.

  19. Yes, it appears I DO need a course in Semantics… wish I had the time to come and sit at your feet and try to take in all the wisdom that you possess.

    But for the moment it seems quite clear, to this uninitiated at least, that FAITH and RELIGION are quite separate and definitely not linked by DOGMA of any sort.

    If we allow everyone to have whatever FAITH they are comfortable with and leave RELIGION to oracles like yourself, the world will be a far better (and more peaceful) place.

  20. What then is your definition of Dogma?
    It’s a belief/doctrine held by an individual or organization. Without which there is no ‘Religion’. If you have a ‘belief’ it becomes a religion when repeated ad infinitum – as chip on the shoulder. Either you have faith, no matter how minuscule or not. One cannot have partial ‘faith’, but one can have partial belief.

    Religious? Yes, in so far as seeing the forest from the trees. Other than that, i’m not syncrestic, to the point of idiocy.

  21. Neither of you (CLF and Isa Manteqi) have commented on the situation in Malaysia. In Malaysia we have courageous trailblazers who showed tremendous courage in the face of adversity, exercising their God given rights to liberty, freedom in the pursuit of happiness – and lost, having fallen in between the cracks of our judicial system, ostracized by their own community and forced to live in exile away from family and friends. Turkey has always been held out by Muslims as a successful model to follow with their secular constitution and their religious tolerance of minorities among them. Where Muslim women are not allowed to put on the hijab to their workplace if they were government employees. Here they say is the incontrovertible proof — besides being the Muslim response to the liberal democracy of the West — that Islam need not be incompatible with democracy?? Really??

    Yet somehow when a Muslim convert to Christianity practices his faith he is somehow insulting Islam and is deserving of the community’s wrath. Somehow converts to Islam deserve jail sentences for a crime they never did.

    I am surprised to find not only names like our Lina Joy on this list of Muslim converts to Christianity but also that of Ramli Yousef, the ex-Al Qaeda member involved in the 1993 World Trade Towers.

    Go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity

  22. I believe in God but I don’t believe in Religion. — robert

    Good. You can keep one to yourself and dump the other.

  23. Yup Bean, i haven’t commented on the situation locally. I was too busy pointing out the Hypocritical Ambivalent Dogma of self-declared Agnostics. Frank otoh, addresses this conundrum well, and would be what i consider a true agnostic, even though i suspect he’s somewhere in between a Christian-Buddhist, without the religiosity.

    The “murtad” over here are terribly persecuted and prosecuted as you have pointed out, and so even if i bear witness or hear of this – i won’t be able to say so for their sake. Lina Joy and others like her have gone underground, overseas and disappeared from the face of Malaysia – never to return.

    One thing i would say though, the general Malay notion of the Christian conversion process is mired in superstition: the use of their equivalent ‘air jampi’ (infinitely more potent, it seems) for water baptism and ‘magic’ hypnosis of the Holy Scripture. They just can’t believe that anyone would want to do so by their own volition, conscience and inherent sanity. Thus people like Hasan Ali. and the Great Mufti of Perak have either a pin-head idea of the religious process – ranging from monetary enticement to technical wizardry – or else, they devolve into magical thinking of their pagan ancestors.

    Besides post-mortem body snatching and refusal to admit administrative errors, they insist on creative accounting of their zakat and other dues. Dhimmi-hood, is a virtue for them, but a bane for others. Nothing changes.

  24. “The “murtad” over here are terribly persecuted and prosecuted…” – CLF

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Although it is clearly stated in the Al-Quran that ‘there is no coercion in Islam’; there are some ‘ulamaks’ who fashioned themselves as defenders of the faith and placed themselves in the stratosphere of the religion who will argue otherwise. I guess these people believe that come Judgement Day, they will not only contradict Lina Joy but also argue with God that she is still a ‘Muslim’.

    The Malay psychic and culture have also influenced the way they practice Islam. Hence the perceived ‘magic’ of the ‘Holy Water’ and the bible.

    Unfortunately many Muslims (and I am not going to mention any other religion) believe in the comfort of big numbers and not in ‘quality’. They failed to understand in time, they will be questioned on their personal faith (and their deeds) and not on the faith or deeds of other fellow humans.

    Unfortunately also, ‘Islam’ too has its politics. What else is new ?

  25. Jamal, this country need more enlightened ones like you. Enlightenment is an arduous process – a journey of rectitude, yet filled with doubt.

    I can also say that some of the rabid Christians too have overplayed their ‘Great Commission’ to the detriment Jesus’ Final Command – that we love one another. Sharing our faiths, is certainly different than imposing our faith. There is nothing that these hyper-religious Muslims can do to the Christians, that the Christians have not done to themselves and others, sometime in the past. That is why i personally do not react the way that a conservative Bible thumping, verse spewing fanatic does. I believe that religion is best kept to ourselves and within our community. It can never be Legislated nor Politicized, even if we feel that it represents our whole being.

    Yes, I’ve always felt that the Justice aspects of true Islam has been relegated to the margins by political, social and cultural expediency. A superior religion has no need for spurious human intervention. Cheers.

  26. wondering how to pray to god….if no faith in religions like Mr Robert admit…all religions are good and kept us from doing sinful things but if being mis follows than it will smear the religion itself…so brothers of all faith why blame the religions…if its bad seed followers ungrace to others faith…mankind is evil and to be blamed and not religions

  27. What is happening to your mamak UMNO fellas in Penang? They want to be more Malay than the Malays. — Din Merican

    This si rusa guy an obnoxious homophobic character is an UMNO mamak?? That figures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.