In a surprising and controversial move, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2012 Annual Report released on Thursday recommended that the US State Department categorize Turkey as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for religious freedom, a category reserved for the worst such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.
This claim should be taken with a grain of salt since five of the commission’s nine members and the State Department, which has the final say, have already distanced themselves from the report’s conclusion about Turkey. If not as a result of a bureaucratic glitch, Turkey’s inclusion in the suggested list of CPCs shows the power of the anti-Turkey lobby in the capital. The Turkish government vehemently, and rightly so, rejected the report’s characterization of religious freedom in Turkey.
Despite my skepticism over how the report characterizes religious freedom in Turkey and its overall conclusion, there is also some truth to it. Certainly, Turkey does not belong in the same category as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia when it comes to religious freedom. Unquestionably, the lot of Christians in Turkey has improved under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). But it is not enough; the government has done little to genuinely care for and help Turkey’s Christians maintain a dignified presence in Turkey.
Sadly, Christianity is endangered in Turkey. What used to be a large and vibrant Christian community has now been reduced to one-tenth of 1 percent of the population over the past century. Growing up in the historically Christian neighborhood of Kurtulus, Istanbul (only two to three miles from Kasimpasa where the prime minister grew up), I have witnessed the disappearance of Christians from Turkey. This historically Christian quarter has been “Turkified” since the 1930s. Its original name, Tatavla, was changed to Kurtulus (independence) to honor the Independence War and to remind Kurtulus’s residents — then mostly Greek Christians — that they lost the war.Continue Reading on www.sundayszaman.com