Now Christmas is over, television adverts tell us we should begin thinking of summer holidays. It looks like Turkey is in for another big year for tourists.
In 2018 more British tourists arrived in Antalya in southern Turkey than in Tenerife and Majorca combined. Thomas Cook claim a 63 per cent increase in bookings to Turkey while the airline Jet2 doubled the number of seats sold on flights to the country.
Having reached a record number of tourists in the first half of the year, Turkey expected 40 million in 2018 with an increase of 45.5 per cent in British tourism. In large part this is due to the country’s economic woes and the 43 per cent fall in value for the Turkish lira, making it one of the few countries where the pound does well.
With sun, sand and beer at £1.37 a pint it is easy to understand why some consider Turkey an attractive holiday destination. Before booking your 2019 summer holiday, however, it might be worth looking beyond the attractive, slick brochures and thinking of the nature of the country. Turkey has a long and continuing history of Christian persecution.
Turkey plays an important part in Christian history. It was the birthplace of Paul and many of the Church Fathers such as Polycarp and Ignatius. The indigenous peoples of the land, Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, were among the first to embrace the Christian faith. Many New Testament epistles were written to Christian congregations in today’s Turkey. Tradition has it that Mary, the mother of Jesus, died in Ephesus.
The first seven Ecumenical Councils were held there. Antioch (Antakya) was where followers of Jesus were called ‘Christian’ for the first time. Byzantium, currently Istanbul, was one of the two major hubs of Christianity. Istanbul’s 6th century Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world.
Then in 1453 the Ottoman Turks invaded and the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. Since the conquest Christians have lived under Muslim domination. Once a major centre of Christianity, today only around 0.2 per cent of Turkey’s 80 million population are Christian.
Following the Islamic invasion sharia law was enforced and Christians were viewed as dhimmis, or non-Muslims living with ‘protected’ status. The dhimmis paid heavy taxes, could not testify in court or hold positions of authority over Muslims and were regularly humiliated.
In everything the dhimmis had to give way to Muslims; equality under the law is a Western notion absent from sharia. Over the centuries, it was this civil degradation, lack of rights and the dhimmi tax which caused many Christians gradually to accept Islam. The enforcement of sharia swamped the dhimmis.
This anti-Christian prejudice is not confined to history books. Modern Turkey has seen violent persecution of Christians. The dying years of the Ottoman Empire were catastrophic for its non-Turkish, non-Muslim minorities.
From 1913 to 1923, its rulers deported or killed approximately 1.5 million Christians in an attempt to preserve ‘Turkey for the Turks’. The Turkish government to this day denies that this ‘incident’ was genocide.
Modern Turkey was founded amidst the brutality commonly known as the Armenian genocide. This was part of a widespread anti-Christian pogrom. Assyrian and Greek subjects as well as Armenians suffered and died under similar policies. In 1922 at least 2 million Greek Orthodox Christians were forced to leave the land they had inhabited from the first millennium BC.
As recently as September 6, 1955, mobs organised by the Turkish government carried out a pogrom reminiscent of Hitler’s Kristallnacht. Prior to this the Greek Christian population of Istanbul was 65,108. Today Human Rights Watch estimates it as 2,500.
In spite of the fact that the Turkish constitution is not based on sharia law, although President Erdogan is moving in this direction, the thinking and behaviour of most Turks remains largely Islamic.
Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu of Sabancı University writes: ‘One issue that differentiates Turkey from the rest of the world is that our national identity is primarily shaped by religious identity. What makes a Turk a Turk is not so much due to ethnicity, or the language people speak, but is primarily about being Muslim.’
Turkey’s Christians are still unapologetically targeted. Many public figures, including politicians, academics, police and trade unions, demonise missionaries. They are accused of engaging in ‘separatist,’ ‘menacing,’ ‘aggressive,’ ‘destructive’ and ‘terrorist’ activities.
The Protestant community is not recognised as a ‘legal entity’ by the Turkish government; consequently it is denied the right to establish and maintain places of worship.
Turkey’s Protestants cannot open their own schools or train their own ministers, forcing them to rely on the support of foreign church leaders. When these foreign religious workers are denied entry into Turkey, refused residence permits or deported, the church is hit hard.
Meanwhile, despite financial troubles Turkey’s government spends hundreds of millions of pounds building mosques in Europe in a sustained effort to promote Islam around the world. According to Bundestag researchers, Germany alone is home to ‘at least 2,350 to 2,750 mosque congregations or associations’.
On September 29, 2018, Erdogan inaugurated Turkey’s latest European mosque, ‘The Cologne Central Mosque,’ in Germany. The 17,000 square-metre mosque complex has a capacity of 1,200. It contains a shopping centre, an exhibition and a seminar hall, a 600-people capacity conference hall, a library, working offices and a ground floor car park.
Many Muslims hope these new European mosques will spread Islam to non-Islamic countries and persuade the Christian ‘infidels’ to abandon their faith in favour of Islam.
While Turkey’s mosques spring up throughout Europe, Turkey’s only school for training the leadership of Orthodox Christianity, the Halki seminary, closed in 1971 by the Turkish government, remains firmly shut.
Those tourist pounds helping keep Erdogan’s Islamist government afloat also help the spread of Islam throughout Europe, and the persecution of Christians in Turkey.