Christianity in Turkey and the Middle East


Christian minorities living in the Middle East, the cradle of religion, aim to keep their culture in line with the Muslim majority. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they attempted to obtain their social rights while being divided into dispersed communities. Christians, who reside in various places from Turkey to Egypt, are sometimes exposed to the reality of immigration, but sometimes, on the contrary, they can encounter a climate of tolerance.

A study conducted in 1893 during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II found that Muslims made up over 80% of the Ottoman population of around 21 million, while the Christian population was estimated at around 15%. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Apostolic Armenian, Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean and “Rum” (Greek) communities formed the main Christian communities and sects living under Ottoman rule and settled around Turkey, the Balkans and the United States. Levant. The Ottoman Empire has long followed a policy of tolerance towards communities within its borders who felt they belonged to different ethnicities, religions and sects, and the interaction between Muslim-Christian subjects, which increased rapidly after the Istanbul’s transition to Ottoman patronage, has reached high levels.

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the Ottoman period was that, apart from the nationalist regimes during its collapse, it contained many different identities, Christian, Jewish, Circassian, Georgian, Kurdish and more, in part of a system called “millet.” Although the term “millet” is understood as “a nation” in today’s Turkish society, when examining its Arab origins, it refers to a community belonging to a However, with the integration of many different religious, ethnic and cultural groups into the empire, the word lost its old meaning and became the name of the system which aimed to ensure a peaceful society within the framework of tolerance. It was such a success that before the era of nationalism put pressure on all empires, Armenians were called “millet-i sadıka”, which means “the loyal nation”, as few nations joined forces with them. to each other, and the guilds and commu Armenian nauticals often had a good reputation in the public eye before some unfortunate incidents occurred.

With the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey (October 29, 1923) and the transition to a multiparty system, Turkey became a country where Christians could be represented at parliamentary level and where freedom of religion and belief was guaranteed by the Constitution. Articles 24 and 25 of the Constitution contain the following sentences: “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction. No one may be compelled to participate in worship, religious rites and ceremonies, or to reveal his religious beliefs and convictions; He cannot be convicted or charged because of his religious beliefs and convictions. In this context, regardless of their religion or denomination, Christians and other religious groups in Turkey have the right to formally found churches, associations and places of worship and can freely practice their religion.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited two important churches, the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen and the New Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Ephrem (Mor Efrem), religious sites he described as new wealth for Istanbul.

Region and reality

A total of 20 million Christians live in the Middle East, mainly in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Considering the fact that there are few Christians in the Gulf region, it is possible to say that a large part of the Christian population in Syria and Iraq has migrated to Western countries due to the prevalence of terrorism. at their home.

As more than 15 million Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christian ethno-religious community, live in relative peace as the state tries to prevent them from being persecuted by radical groups like Daesh, in Palestine and Israel , Christians are being ignored in the conflict between the two sides. . So, in another part of the Middle East, Christians have to emigrate, succumbing to the misfortune of being born in Iraq and Syria. In light of this adversity, the Palestinian Christian population alone has declined by 50% since the 1990s.

Apart from the island of Cyprus, the country with the highest percentage of Christians in the Middle East is Lebanon, which is in the midst of economic and political turmoil. In Lebanon, where 30% of the population believes in Christianity and predominantly adopts the Maronite sect, the presidential electoral system is determined according to the Christian President-Muslim Prime Minister method, similar to the Kurdish President-Arab Prime Minister system in Iraq, and thus, the social rights of minorities are established and widely accepted. The Lebanese have emigrated away from the socio-political polarization of the Lebanese Civil War, which took place between 1975-1990 and saw hundreds of thousands of people die, as Maronite Christians and Muslims fight relentlessly. Today, they are trying to put aside their identity conflicts and come out of the crisis in which the whole country finds itself.

Although the number of Christians in the Middle East remains the same today as it was 100 years ago, members of the faith can live their lives in some countries that they believe show more tolerance. This is especially true in Turkey, where there are miraculous structures from the monastery of Sümela to the Orthodox churches of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Peter. The fact that such religious institutions can be protected is an important source of hope for the future of Christianity in the region.

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