The Prince of Wales praised Turkey as an example of religious tolerance and lent support to its bid to join the European Union, during his tour of religious and historic sites in the ancient southeastern city of Mardin.
On the last leg of his two-day, three-stop visit to Turkey, Britain's Prince Charles said Turkey's EU bid was an "extraordinary opportunity" for the Muslim nation to prove "that secular democracy does not have to come at the expense of Islamic values; and that accepting Turkish cultural and social values within Europe does not mean that democracy and the rule of law are under threat."
"For many years, the United Kingdom has been one of Turkey's most steadfast supporters -- in Europe and more widely. I know we will continue to provide that support in the years to come," he added.
Turkey, a member of NATO, has waited 40 years to become a part of the EU. Critics of Turkey’s EU application, however, have expressed concerns over the bid, saying that the EU, which this year staged its largest expansion, taking it from 15 member states to 25, would simply be overwhelmed by the culture differences if Ankara won EU membership.
Some critics have also suggested a possible risk of clash of religions if the predominantly Muslim nation were admitted to the EU; while others, including the German Evangelical Alliance, which represents 1.3 million Protestants in Germany, have said that before joining the EU, Turkey would have to end the discrimination of Christians, respect minorities and guarantee equality for women.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the past year has brought “substantial legislative reform” in Turkey, but “established patterns of violations are proving hard to eradicate.”
“Police still routinely ill-treat detainees, and reports of outright torture in police custody persist,” HRW reported last month.
“Prosecutors continue to indict writers and politicians who express a religious or ethnic perspective on politics, charging them with racial or religious hatred, as well as ‘insulting state institutions’.”
Although Turkey played a significant part of the early Christian Church as the center of much of the Apostle Paul's work, with the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, it became the ‘guardian of Islam’ for centuries.
In the twentieth century, the number of Christians in Turkey dramatically decreased from twenty-two percent in 1900 to today, where 99.6 percent of the 67 million inhabitants of Turkey are Muslims and most people have never heard the Gospel of Christ. Christians are said to make up 0.3 percent of the population.
During his visit to Mardin, Prince Charles visited the Deyrulzafaran monastery, which dates back to the fifth century and for hundreds of years housed the patriarchate of the Syrian Orthodox Church, one of the world's oldest Christian denominations.
After meeting religious leaders at the monastery and then touring other religious and historic sites, Prince Charles left Turkey for Jordan, the last stop of a nine-day, three-country swing that also took him to Italy.