Turkey, EU membership & religious minorities

As the secular state of Turkey continues the long and drawn out journey towards membership of the EU, there remain important aspects of its commitment to religious freedom that need urgent attention. Forum 18 reports on the why it is still the case that Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic leaders are chosen with government permission as leaders of religious communities which do not exist in law and whose personal positions are not recognised in law.

These three religious communities strive very carefully to avoid confrontation with the Turkish state authorities but de facto are expected to seek permission from the Turkish state to elect new leaders for their respective communities. This is not legally required but it is widely acknowledged that if it were not sought, it would be extremely difficult for those leaders to gain recognition from the state as the representative leader of the religious community.

There three groups are recognised by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923  as legitimate ethnically composed religious communities. Other groups, including evangelicals, are not recognised as religious communities and so may choose their own leaders without the expectation of state interference. However, these leaders are not recognised therefore by the Turkish state as representing any religious community or church. Christian mission presence in Turkey must also exist in a ‘grey zone’ of existence.

The Orthodox Church has been present in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) for over 1600 years but in 2007 the Turkish courts ruled that the leader of the Orthodox Church in Turkey was not to be called the ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ but the ‘Patriarch of the Fanar’ (The Fanar is the Istanbul district in which his residence is based) and that he had no authority over Orthodox churches outside of Turkey. All this is despite the fact the world Orthodox community clearly views him as the ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ with authority over quite a number of scattered Orthodox communities in other parts of the world.

There is certainly a geographical and economic case to be made for Turkish membership of the EU, but until such dangerous eccentricities in its treatment of its religious minorities are addressed, Turkey is likely to face considerable opposition to its membership from other member countries of the EU.

Explore posts in the same categories: EU, europe, mission, Orthodox, religious freedom, Turkey

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