Ankara's Systematic Banishment of Christians The European … – The European Conservative

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Statue of the Virgin Mary located at the house traditionally said to be her final home at Ephesus, Turkey.
Photo: Murat An / Shutterstock.com
Over the past hundred years, the number of Christians in Turkey has fallen from 20% to 0.2% of the population. Ankara’s systematic targeting of Turkish Christians and missionaries from abroad has significantly contributed to this trend. In Warsaw, on October 5th, human rights experts highlighted the growing intolerance against Christians in Turkey at Europe’s largest human rights conference, hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 
As the Islamisation of the country progresses, Open Doors reports that pressure on the Christian community has massively increased, particularly since the coup attempt by a faction of the armed forces in 2016. There is now a dictatorial paranoia that sees an enemy in all foreign actors, and it manifests in anti-Christian sentiment. Conspiracy theories often paint Christians as collaborators with foreign powers that are seeking to undermine Turkish identity. The government spends enormous sums of money to spread Islam at home and abroad through one of its largest ministries, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs. Alongside these efforts, it has become increasingly wary of the small number of Christian missionaries who are residing in the country. 
In 2016, the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson (released in 2018) led both to the flight of many missionaries from the country and to fewer Christian workers coming to Turkey for jobs. Those who stay have faced escalating challenges. Open Doors reports that at least 75 foreign Christian workers and their families were expelled from Turkey between 2020 and 2023. 
A British couple, Rachel and Mario Zalma (their names have been changed), moved to Istanbul in 2009 to support a new Christian church community. They invested significant time into learning the language, history, and customs of the local people. With the desire to be a blessing to the neighborhood, their church offered free English lessons and a parent-child playgroup. Donations from their annual Christmas fair went to local charities. But in 2018, the Zalmas heard that other Christians had been barred from entering Turkey after returning from trips to their home countries. Turkish authorities had begun branding Christians with the N-82 security code, identifying them as a “threat to public order and security.” One such Christian was American-Canadian minister David Byle. His family of seven had called Turkey home for more than 19 years. In 2018, the Turkish authorities tricked him into leaving the country with an ‘exit permit.’ They then imposed a permanent entry ban on David, which he only discovered at the airport upon trying to return home to his family. Exiled from Turkey, the Byles now reside in Germany.
The authorities went even further in the case of U.S. missionaries Pam and David Wilson. After living in Turkey for nearly four decades, they were assigned a G-87 code and effectively banned from the country. This code, normally reserved for terrorists, labels them as a “threat to security.” The trend then caught up to the Zalmas. Before leaving on a trip to the UK in 2019, Mario was informed that he had been slapped with the N-82 code. When Rachel received hers in the summer of 2020, the Zalmas decided to return to England and challenge the security code from there.  
These cases and others like them demonstrate that the Turkish government is wielding security codes as a weapon against Christians in Turkey. The security codes are a particularly cunning tool to obscure the government’s actions because, through their use, documents become classified, an air of secrecy and unquestionability surrounds the cases, and the legal process is effectively paralyzed. As a result of documents produced during the Zalma’s court proceedings, it has come to light that the Turkish government had classified as a security risk many Christians who attended the 2019 Family Conference of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churches. So far, the 2022 Human Rights Violations Report, presented by the Protestant Church Association, records 185 people who have been branded with the N-82 code, thus preventing them from entering Turkey.  
Christian human rights organization ADF International currently is supporting over 20 such cases. It has brought several cases, including those of the Wilsons and the Zalmas, before the European Court of Human Rights. Dr. Lidia Rieder, legal officer for ADF International, has said that, “Our hope is that Europe’s top human rights court will hold Türkiye accountable for its treatment of foreign Christians so that they can live in the country without fear of expulsion. Designating Christians as security threats, solely because they share their convictions, is a severe violation of religious freedom.” At the OSCE conference last week, ADF International hosted a high-level panel discussion in order to bring international attention to the plight of Christians in Turkey.  
Everyone has the right to choose, change, and share their faith freely. That’s why it is essential that legal guarantees to combat religious intolerance, particularly towards Christians, are effectively implemented rather than flouted by Turkish authorities. Those seeking freely to live out their faith—serving others and seeking to be a blessing to their communities—should not be labeled as “threats to security” or, worse, “terrorists.” The world must pay attention to the mounting intolerance facing Christians in Turkey and other countries beyond the EU, and denounce these systematic violations of religious freedom.  


Written by: Christianity Today

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