Thursday, May 11, 2017

Turkey, EU candidate, persecutes religious minorities

Once a proudly secular country with a majority Muslim population, Turkey is slowly slipping towards fundamentalism. The state of emergency instated post the failed coup in 2016 has just been extended and is giving way to gross violations of fundamental freedoms, freedom of religion among them. Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states:  Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

In Islam, political and religious realms are not separate: mosques are supported by the government, some imams are also political representatives and exert great influence on their followers, as it has been showed in a previous article on this site. Being Muslim is part of the Turkish identity (one’s religion is even stated on the Turkish ID!) and thus, a non-Muslim (or one who leaves Islam for another religion) is always regarded with suspicion as to where his or her political allegiance lies. Erdogan knows this and is exploiting this fear and mistrust within the population. Almost anything and anyone can pose a national security threat; freedom of expression and freedom of religion are constantly sacrificed for the 'greater good' of the country.

Christians, especially, have been systematically targeted since the 2001 national security policies which labeled minorities and missionary activities as 'national threats'. A Catholic priest was shot in the head as he knelt to pray by a radical 16 year old Muslim boy. Protestant missionaries are seen as spies, as it was the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, who were arrested in October 2016, although they had been living and working in Izmir for over 20 years. Another example is that of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the senior editor of an Armenian newspaper and a promoter of peace, by another young ultranationalist. It is claimed the authorities had knowledge (possibly even involved) of the assassination plans and did nothing. The most infamous case was that of the three Protestant missionaries who were tortured and slaughtered ten years ago. In that instance, too, state involvement is suspected. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Alevis - the second largest religious group after Sunni Muslims - have been discriminated against when denied religious legal status. Jews, Yazidis, Armenians and Kurds are other ethnic and religious minorities systematically persecuted.

Religious minority leaders and their churches receive death threats, applications for establishing places for worship or for an association gaining legal religious status are denied and religious education classes are mandatory in schools. On Good Friday this year, the government allowed thousands of Muslims to hold special prayers at the Hagia Sofia, a former Greek Orthodox cathedral which was subsequently turned into a mosque and then a museum. Erdogan has stated his intention to turn it into a mosque once again.

All these examples demonstrate that Turkey is slowly joining the ranks of the other extremist Muslim countries. The atmosphere of fear and constant persecution are totally incompatible with democracy and the fundamental principles on which the EU is founded. The Western European countries have shown tolerance and acceptance towards the Turkish minorities living in them but it seems pluralism is a one-way street for the Turkish mind - they demand and enjoy it abroad but shun it at home. All the international negative reports Turkey has gotten lately did nothing to persuade its government of the error of its ways, on the contrary. Why should then the European Union still consider the accession talks?! Better to stop this game of pretending once and for all - sign the petition!