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Victory for Turkish house church amid an...

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Victory for Turkish house church amid anti-Christian hostility

Country/Region: Turkey

A house church in Turkey has finally been granted legal status after a long battle with the authorities in a case that highlights the ongoing difficulties for Turkish Christians regarding places of worship.

Turkish Christians face difficulties in finding places to worship
Turkish Christians face difficulties in finding places to worship

The Protestant group in the eastern province of Van has been meeting in a two-storey house for seven years, during which time it has made frequent attempts to obtain a licence for the building to be recognised as a place of worship.

Despite finally granting the churchs request, the authorities appear to remain hostile to it. Christians in Turkey are viewed with widespread prejudice and suspicion; they are traditionally associated with the West and are thus considered disloyal to the state. Islam is seen as a major part of Turkish identity.

Following the churchs official opening, Mustafa Bilici, a Van deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party, said:

It is great heedlessness to open new churches in Muslim societies that are acting as stooges for Zionist activities.

Vahit Yildiz, one of the church elders, said that the congregations only desire was to worship freely, but that the authorities viewed them as a threat:

They see us as persons who deceive people and who have a secret agenda... The quintessential reason behind the fear is the ... rhetoric employed by some of [the countrys] leaders, which deeply saddens us, besides the prejudices formed by the public.

Threats and violence

Anti-Christian hostility in Turkey sometimes boils over into threats and acts of violence; six Christians have been martyred in recent years, while converts from Islam are especially vulnerable to harassment. Christian buildings have also been attacked.

Mr Yildiz said:

The way is being paved for similar attacks as long as the true perpetrators remain unexposed and judiciary penalties are not applied.

He said that because of such incidents, his church was being very careful, while other Christians in the east (where some of the more high-profile attacks have taken place) would continue meeting in house churches unless measures were taken to protect them from threats and violence.

Despite Turkeys long Christian heritage, dating back to Biblical times, it is now overwhelmingly Muslim, and Islamism is growing in strength. As part of its preparation for EU entry, Turkey promised to liberalise laws restricting non-Islamic religions, but Christians, who comprise only around 0.1 per cent of the population, continue to face endless obstructions.

They face particular difficulty in opening, maintaining and operating places of worship. Religious services may take place only in locations designated by the government, and landlords are reluctant to rent private property to churches for fear of harassment by the police. Consequently, many congregations meet "underground" in peoples homes.

Mr Yildiz said:

Due to a lack of sufficient church buildings and [the authorities refusal] to grant a Religious Designation License, there are over 100 house groups and rented places of worship all across Turkey.

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