In its 2021 Annual Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlights the decline of religious freedom in Turkey over the last year, as epitomized by the conversion of Hagia Sophia and the Chora monastery to mosques. The Report details Turkey’s intransigence and refusal to respond to international calls for religious freedom; its reckless policies of converting numerous ancient churches and other Christian sites to mosques; its failure to reopen Halki Seminary despite repeated promises to do so; the arbitrary abduction and imprisonment of Christians, including U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson; its denial of property rights to minority religious communities, and even the right to govern their own affairs, and much more.
This persecution of Christians and disregard for Turkey’s rich Christian heritage is longstanding: USCIRF first added Turkey to its Watch List in 2009 as country “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom.” In 2012, USCIRF recommended that Turkey be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), that is, as one of the principal violators of religious freedom worldwide, a country in which such violations are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”
In 2014, USCIRF returned Turkey to the Watch List, where it has remained until this year. In the new report, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government include Turkey on the U.S. Department of State’s Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The full report contains numerous details about the worsening plight of Christians in Turkey and elsewhere.
View page 82 for the full report on Turkey