9 November 2010
Turkey's Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Monastery in the Midyat (Tur Abdin) district faces five separate lawsuits contesting its right to its own property. Some of these cases are being brought by the government, and the state's actions suggest it wishes that the Monastery no longer existed. Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio , in a commentary for Forum 18, argues that as long as the international community shows an interest in the fate of the Syriac Orthodox community, nothing drastic will happen it. But this will not prevent the lawsuits dragging on, leaving the Monastery and the community insecure and emotionally and financially drained. Should international interest fade, the state and local tribal leaders will do what they have long sought to do: take over the Christian-owned land. The fate of the Syriac Orthodox is important not just for that community, but for the signal it sends to other minority religious communities – and indeed to all who want full equality for everyone in Turkey.
8 October 2010
The compulsory recording of people's religious affiliation is the subject of debate within Turkey, Forum 18 News Service notes. Citizens must either declare one of a limited number of religions – atheism is not a possible choice - or leave the religion part of ID Cards and the Public Registry blank. This makes people vulnerable to discrimination, because of both the very many situations in which identification must be shown, and the many people who can access this information. Under the international human rights treaties to which Turkey is a party, individuals cannot be forced to declare their religion, belief or non-belief. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 1999 "that Turkey is preparing to suppress mention of religion on identity cards", but there has been no apparent progress. A recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment on an Alevi who wanted this designation recorded on his records and ID Card found against Turkey, but along with other ECtHR judgments it has not been executed. Substantial structural and mentality changes are required for change to occur.
11 August 2010
TURKEY: Why state interference in the election of Chief Rabbi, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchs?
Turkey continues to interfere in the choices made by the Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic communities of who should lead them, Forum 18 News Service notes. The government makes no attempt to hide this interference, which raises serious questions in relation to its international human rights commitments to allow religious communities to select the leaders of their choice. It also interferes in the appointment of the leadership of the Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs) and running of the Muslim community, the country's largest religious community. Any resolution in line with Turkey's international human rights obligations would also have to entail granting legal status to all existing religious communities. Communities of all Turkey's faiths should be free to structure themselves as they choose. But at present no religious community in Turkey has independent legal status in its own right – which means for example that no religious community can own property. So the 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.
22 April 2010
It was expected that Turkey's trial of those accused of murdering three Malatya Protestants would end last week, Güzide Ceyhan notes in a commentary for Forum 18. But an indictment related to Operation Cage – an alleged Navy plan targeting Turkey's non-Muslim communities - has been added to the case file but not yet merged with the case. The murders of journalist Hrant Dink, Catholic priest Fr Andrea Santoro and the three Malatya Protestants - Necati Aydin, Tillman Geske and Ugur Yüksel - are expressly identified as helping Cage realise its purposes. This Operation aimed to destabilise the AKP government by both targeting non-Muslims and encouraging protests about their targeting. But what have the criminal trials – very important as they are - really revealed? The tragic irony is that even if Cage is fictitious, freedom of religion or belief for all in Turkey is both limited and under threat. The government has focused on the issues which can most damage the AKP, i.e. possibly Ergenekon-related violent attacks on non-Muslim individuals. But Turkey's many other serious challenges to freedom of religion or belief have not been resolved. The government needs to take action now on those challenges, whether or not they feature in trial proceedings.
17 March 2010
Turkish non-recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service contributes to conscientious objectors being in an unending cycle of prosecution - trial - punishment, Güzide Ceyhan notes in a commentary for Forum 18. The case of Muslim objector Enver Aydemir demonstrates this. He objects to conscription because of the military's "antagonistic feelings towards my beliefs". The experience of his mother and sister, who were not allowed to visit him in custody wearing veils, has, he thinks demonstrated this. Similarly trapped in the prosecution – trial – punishment cycle are Jehovah's Witness and secular conscientious objectors. The refusal of the European Court of Human Rights to address the religious freedom aspects of the Ülke case ignored the prosecution – trial – punishment cycle's coercion of a person to change their beliefs. Sadly, it appears that conscientious objection is – like non-recognition of the independent legal existence of religious communities – another example of Turkey's reluctance to recognise freedom of religion or belief for everyone.
27 November 2009
Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Turkey, Forum 18 News Service has found that the country continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. A long-standing crucially important issue, with many implications, is that Turkey has not legally recognised religious communities in their own right as independent communities with full legal status - such as the right to own places of worship and the legal protection religious communities normally have in states under the rule of law. Additionally, the most dangerous threat to individuals exercising freedom of religion or belief has been a series of violent attacks and murders on those perceived as threats; in recent years the victims have been Christians. Turkish citizens have argued to Forum 18 that the protection of the right of all to freedom of religion or belief, as laid down in the international human rights standards which Turkey is party to, should be the standard used by the authorities in all affected fields. They also argue that the authorities act against the intolerance fuelling violent attacks and murders.
27 October 2009
Turkish religious communities as diverse as the Alevi Muslims, Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and the Syriac Orthodox Church have seen no significant progress in 2009 in resolving long-standing property problems, Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio notes in a commentary for Forum 18. Hopes were high, following meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama's address to the Turkish Parliament, that some progress on this aspect of freedom of religion and belief would be made. But there has been, for example, no progress on recognising Alevi Muslim cem houses and continuing legal cases against the Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Monastery, while two recent victories in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have not led to the recovery of confiscated property. Dr Oehring observes that the ECtHR appears to be the only realistic hope of resolving individual property cases – provided its judgments are implemented.
22 October 2009
Hopes for improvements in the rights of religious communities in Turkey in 2009 have once more come to nothing, notes Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio in a commentary for Forum 18. Alevi Muslims broke off formal talks with the government over denial of their rights. A high-profile lunch with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August 2009, attended by five religious minority leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, was followed by a visit to two Greek Orthodox sites. But no concrete improvements ensued. Intolerance promoted by Turkey's mainstream media has markedly reduced, but local and ultranationalist newspapers and websites still promote such intolerance. No verdict was reached in 2009 in the long-running trial over the 2007 murder of three Protestants in Malatya, or over the long-running attempts to prosecute two Protestants accused of "defaming Islam". Dr Oehring argues for a fundamental change in the attitudes of both society and the government.