THE LIGHTS of the Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul reflect off the Bosphorus.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
The Turkish government will allow for the construction of a new church for the first time in nearly 100 years, Turkish media recently reported. The move comes amid increased persecution of the religious minority in the Middle East.
The state will fund the construction of the church, which will serve Turkey’s Syriac Christian community. According to officials, this will be the first church constructed in Turkey since the creation of the republic in 1923.
The new church will stand in the Yeşilkoy neighborhood of the Bakırkoy district, an area close to Atatürk Airport, Istanbul's main international transportation hub. While plans for the church have been ongoing since 2013, they were just recently approved.
Of Turkey’s population, which numbers 80 million, there are only around 100,000 Christians. While Christians are allowed to practice their religion in the Muslim majority country, they face restrictions. For example, religious officials are banned from teaching at minority schools and religious officials often experience passport problems and difficulty obtaining work permits.
"All [representatives] are equal and real citizens of the Republic of Turkey," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Friday in a meeting with representatives of non-Muslim minority communities in his office in Istanbul.
This development comes at a time of great peril for the Christians of the Middle East. Over 1.2 million refugees fleeing the Islamic State reside in Turkey, and the Muslim majority country continues to accept more as the situation at its border worsens.
Pope Francis applauded Turkey for their acceptance of Christian refugees during his November visit to the country and also encouraged religious coexistence between the Muslim majority and minority Christian faiths within the country.
“I insisted on the importance of Christians and Muslims working together for solidarity, peace and justice,“ Francis said in reference to his meetings in Turkey. “...every nation must guarantee citizens and religious communities real freedom of worship.”sign up to our newsletter