It’s time for Turkey to step up religious freedom protection, says IRLA leader

Will 2012 be a turning point in Turkey’s relationship with its religious minorities?

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (center) and Dr John Graz (far right) at a Jan. 2011 meeting in Istanbul.

Feb 20, 2012 ... The coming year could mark a pivotal time for Turkey in its journey toward substantive religious freedom, according to Dr. John Graz, secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association.

Turkey, currently seeking to become a full-fledged member of the European Union, is in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution. In doing so, says Dr. Graz, Turkey’s leaders have a chance to make significant strides forward in the country’s treatment of minority religions.

Turkey has a secular government and a constitution that guarantees individuals the right to choose their religion. However, Dr. Graz points out that Turkey’s small non-Musli

m population—less than one percent of the total population—has long endured official discrimination, tough regulations, and the failure of the government to return property confiscated from Christian churches over the years.


“A new Turkey is being born," he said. On the same day, a leader of Turkey's tiny Assyrian Christian Church—one of the world’s oldest Christian communities—also met with the parliamentary committee, and asked for the return of buildings and the ability to train and educate church leaders.

“The fact that Turkey is actively soliciting input from minority religions is a promising sign,” said Dr. Graz. “The IRLA will continue to follow developments closely as Turkey continues to review its constitution protections for religious freedom.”

Late last year the IRLA expressed support for a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives calling on Turkey to end religious discrimination. Attorney Dwayne Leslie, deputy secretary general of the IRLA, says the December 13 resolution urged Turkey to do more to safeguard its Christian heritage and also to return confiscated properties to Christian churches.