Christians are seen by the state as a potential enemy within, a view rooted in the history of the transition from Ottoman Empire to the modern Turkish state. The mass emigration of ethnic Greeks and Armenians during the first quarter of the twentieth century has affected believing communities ever since, making Christian persecution in Turkey ever-present.
The traditional churches have been denied seminaries since the 1970s, which makes training of priests and lay leaders problematic. Some train abroad, which entails use of a different language. Not everyone returns. Legally, the government can seize any Christian place of worship that does not have a priest. So, the shortage of priests leads to the closure of church buildings. The Protestant churches are denied registration as religious bodies. Persecuted Christians in Turkey almost invariable face societal pressures including discrimination in employment. Overt evangelism is legal but frequently unwelcome.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
“Even three years ago it was so much easier. A dark blanket has fallen over the land, and this once great cosmopolitan place no longer welcomes all beliefs and peoples. We Christians can no longer depend on the government to ensure our freedoms, and we are beginning to brace for a more underground existence. There is still time to have a brighter future if we pray and work.”
— A persecuted Christian and minister in the north of the country, near Taliban dominated territory
History of Christianity
Christianity arrived early in church history. The apostle Paul was one early pioneer and Christian tradition says that John spent his later life in and near Ephesus. Several Church Councils were held in Turkey, notably at Nicea (325), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451).
One lamentable historical event was the Fourth Crusade which sacked Constantinople motivated by tensions between the centers of power of the western churches and eastern churches.
Today, there are several traditional churches of which the Byzantine/Greek Orthodox Church is the largest. The Eastern Orthodox family of churches retains Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) as the seat of its Ecumenical Patriarch, who is “the first among equals” of the family’s presiding bishops. There are many Protestant churches most of whose members are of Muslim heritage. Numerically, the largest Christian community is probably the Farsi speaking fellowships among the Iranian diaspora.