Islamist Turkey Seizes Last Six Christian Churches In City, Making Them State Property

( [email protected] ) Apr 22, 2016 12:57 PM EDT
In an attempt to further restrict religious freedom, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control of the last six Christian churches in the war-torn southeastern region of Turkey.
The 1,700-year-old Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir was one of the churches seized. Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.

In an attempt to further restrict religious freedom, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control of the last six Christian churches in the war-torn southeastern region of Turkey and made them state property.

According to the World Watch Monitor, the order to seize the churches was made last month by Erdogan's council of ministers who claimed they intended to rebuild and restore the historical center of Diyarbakir, which has been partially destroyed by 10 months of urban conflict between government forces and militants from the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

The structures seized in the city included Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, one of which is over 1,700 years old. The report notes that now, the churches will be run exclusively by the government - in a country where about 98 percent of the population is Muslim.

Local Christians are infuriated by the seizures and are threatening to take legal action against the decision.

Ahmet Guvener, the pastor of Diyarbakir Protestant Church, said: "The government didn't take over these pieces of property in order to protect them. They did so to acquire them."

Diyarbakir Bar Association - which represents Christians worshipping at one of the churches, has now officially filed an appeal the government's action.

In a statement, the group said: "Among the expropriated plots, there are structures belonging to public institutions ... and places of worship and residences considered as historical and cultural heritage.

"This decision, which seems to be made by the request of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning without any reason or justification, is unacceptable within the limits of constitutional order."

Government leaders argue that the order to take control of the churches was not religiously motivated, pointing out that they have also occupied some historical mosques in the city.

However, PJ Media notes that unlike Christian churches, which are maintained by their congregations, all mosques in Turkey are state-backed and funded, meaning their futures are secure.

Victoria Coates, who is the foreign policy advisor to US Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, said the seizure is simply one more example of how Christians in the Middle East are systematically persecuted without reprisal.

"What's happening in southern Turkey is all too typical in the Middle East today, as ancient Christian communities are displaced and persecuted by sectarian violence," she told PJ Media.

"The government of Turkey should move swiftly to return these churches to their rightful owners, and not take advantage of the situation to seize them permanently."

Open Doors USA has placed Turkey 45th on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.

"Persecution in Turkey is shaped by Islamic extremism, and is increasingly marked by violence," notes the report. "This suggests that the ever-present pressure on the Church is now translating into open opposition. Pressure on believers from Muslim backgrounds is especially acute due to the Islamic social environment. Increasing pressure on Christians is fueled by Turkish nationalism and a regime that aims to Islamize the country.