Occupied by the Byzantines and the Mongols, the modern history of Turkey begins with the formation of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century, which went on to conquer large areas of the Middle East and Eastern Europe prior to its defeat by the Allied forces in World War I. A small group of military cadres, led by future President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, resisted the authority of the Allies and successfully formed the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Turkey has been home to some of the earliest human civilizations known to man, as well as the site of famous historical battles such as the legendary city of Troy, at which the Trojan War over Queen Helen of Spartacus was fought. The official language is Turkish, although Kurdish is widely spoken by the Kurdish population, which accounts for 18% of Turkey’s people. The capital city is Ankara.
Turkey is a secular republic, with a popularly elected parliament and president. Until 2014, the president was a largely ceremonial figure, with the prime minister, elected by parliament, holding executive powers. However, after serving 11 years as prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the socially conservative Justice and Development Party (“Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi” or AKP in Turkish), became the country’s first directly elected president and began pushing for constitutional changes that would concentrate more powers in the presidency. This took effect after a referendum in 2017 and new presidential elections in 2018.
The AKP party first took control of the Turkish parliament in 2007. It continued its dominance in 2011 but was losing popularity by 2015 when it lost its majority and only regained it in a second snap election after failed attempts to form a coalition government. Although it denies being an “Islamic party”, its core was formed from members of the Islamic Virtue Party and observers have seen it as balancing moderate Islamism with economic liberalism. President Erdogan, while popular among his conservative and nationalist base, has become increasingly authoritarian. This trend accelerated after a failed coup attempt in 2016. Under a state of emergency, over 160,000 public servants were suspended from their jobs and some 50,000 arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement which the government believes was behind the coup.
Turkey has strong links to the West as a trade partner, as well as defensively; it has been a military base and location of strategic importance for NATO since the end of the Second World War. Although engaged in many trade agreements with the majority of Europe, Turkey has been barred from joining the European Union as a result of continuing international pressure to improve its poor record of respecting human rights. Turkey’s role in the deaths of over 1.5 million Armenians during World War I, as well as continued political hostilities towards Cyprus (of which it currently occupies the northern half) are sources of discontent and distrust for several European powers considering Turkey’s potential admittance into the European Union.
Turkey’s economy relies on banking, tourism, oil refining and the mining of various minerals. It is also one of the world’s largest shipbuilding nations after the USA, Canada and Italy. There is 12.4% unemployment and 17% of the population live below the poverty line in Turkey today.
Turkey is a multicultural and multi-ethnic country currently facing much civil and political unrest amongst its ethnic minorities – such as the Kurds of south-eastern Turkey, who have been campaigning for several years for greater autonomy and political representation. The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECR) has expressed concerns over the years of Turkish discrimination and persecution against the Kurdish minority.
Press freedom dramatically declined in the wake of the 2016 attempted coup. The constitution grants freedom of expression, but monitors and limits the spread of separatist or extremist propaganda. Its Penal Code, in Article 301, also forbids publication of any material insulting the Turkish nation.
Turkey currently has an estimated population of 77 million, of which 99.5% are Muslim, and 0.5% Christian; the Christian population is an approximate 110,000. A 2006 announcement reported that religion would no longer be included on state-issued identity cards, although this has not yet been implemented.
Christianity was recognised as an institution in the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, and the country has some 200 registered churches today. The Armenian and Syrian churches make up the majority of congregations. Proselytising is legal in Turkey, but is viewed as socially unacceptable and dangerous, and there have been reports of vandalism of churches and attacks on new believers.
Christian minorities such as Protestants who are registered with, but not officially recognised by the government, have expressed concerns about the lack of protection given to them by the law. Since the murder of three missionaries in 2007, Protestants and other minorities have called for greater government protection as well as for improvements to be made in the educational system, which allegedly encourages nationalism. A religious culture and knowledge of ethics class is compulsory in all public schools in Turkey, and no student, regardless of faith, is allowed to be exempt. The class focuses mainly on Islam, and there are claims that the disregard of other religions encourages children to be intolerant of non-Muslims.
- Pray for the acceptance of Christianity and believers in Turkey.
- Pray for peaceful solutions to the disputes between the Turkish government, the Kurds and the Cypriots.
- Pray for the recognition of ignored Christian minorities.