Christians In Turkey on Edge After Failed Military Coup, Fear More Persecution

Armed forces in Taksim Square, Istanbul, after the coup attempt. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA
Armed forces in Taksim Square, Istanbul, after the coup attempt. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA

In the aftermath of a failed military coup, Christians in Turkey are likely to face increased scrutiny and more persecution, an international security expert told Baptist Press.

An estimated 50,000-60,000 people — soldiers, police, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and teachers — have been fired or detained since the July 15 coup attempt, according to news reports.

The coup is widely seen as move by elements of the military opposed to the increased political influence of Islam in the constitutionally secular country. Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, has declared a three-month state of emergency, allowing him to bypass parliament to enact new laws and restrict or suspend freedoms, the BBC reported.

Some observers have argued that Erdogan himself staged a fake coup to strengthen his grip and accelerate Islamification of the country, although a spokesman for the president labeled the conspiracy theory “nonsensical.” The scope of the post-coup crackdown nevertheless indicates the government is taking advantage of the situation to persecute citizens on its lengthy lists of enemies, observers say.

“This is a brazen move on behalf of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (JDP),” said Scott Brawner, president of Concilium, a Christian nonprofit organization that specializes in security training and analysis.

“The JDP has eroded the personal rights of minority religions, especially Christians. This includes the confiscation of church properties, assaults and attacks on Turkish Christians that go unprosecuted by the state, and real and tangible threats against Muslim-background believers from society and the government,” Brawner said.

Turkey’s Christian community accounts for about 0.2 percent of the country’s total population of about 81 million, according to the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report compiled by the U.S. State Department. Turkey is an ally of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Tensions within the country have been heightened by the influx of more than 2 million refugees fleeing Islamic State terror.

Christian workers living in Istanbul described the coup aftermath as “the worst-case scenario for Christians living in Turkey,” said Sandra Elliot, program coordinator for International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for persecuted Christians.

“When the president addressed the people during the coup, he called on them as ‘Turks’ and as ‘believers in God’ — equating the two,” Elliot said. “The government may very well see [Christians] as a threat due to their lack of adherence to Islam.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Mark Kelly