Republic of Turkey is to build its first new church

09 January 2015

iSTOCK

CHRISTIANS in Turkey have given a cautious response to reports that the government has given permission for the first new church in the country for nearly a century.

After meeting religious leaders last Friday, the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that a Syriac Orthodox church would be built in the Yeşilköy district of Istanbul, where Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic churches already exist.

Mr Davutoglu said that it would be "the first [new church] since the creation of the republic [in 1923]. Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now."

But the Area Vocation Adviser to the Anglican Church in Turkey, the Revd Engin Yildrim, said on Tuesday that "there has not been much in the way of clarification or explanation about this, yet. We are not sure if it's genuine, or something of an exaggeration. It certainly doesn't reflect the broader official attitudes towards Christians in Turkey."

The small Christian minority in Turkey, estimated at about 100,000, has long complained of being discriminated against. Since coming to power in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been accused of reviving Islamic practices and traditions that have left Christians feeling still more marginalised.

In 2011, the Syriac Orthodox community protested when an appeal court upheld a claim that 244 acres of land around Mor Gabriel monastery, in the south-east of the country, belonged to the state. Christians in Turkey said that the move represented a further attempt to squeeze their presence in the country.

At the time, Canon Ian Sherwood, of Christ Church with St Helena, Istanbul, said: "The inundation on the historic property-holdings of church communities has been truly shocking in recent years. Scores of properties have been lost to Istanbul's native churches. . .

"Defending centuries of property use and rights is certainly an uphill struggle that seems to be little understood by Church and secular authorities in England."

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