In his recent visit to Turkey, German president Christian Wulff correctly stated that Christianity belongs to Turkey. In the Turkish city of Antakya, Jesus` devotees for the first time called themselves as Christians. Anatolia was the heartland of the Christian Byzantine Empire and millions of Christians and other religious minorities lived in the Ottoman Empire.
In light of this history, the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey today is alarming. Having suffered genocide, displacement and discrimination, the number of religious minorities from Christian and Jewish decent has diminished significantly. Today, only 1% of the Turkish population is Christian or Jewish constituting only 92.000 citizens of Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox or Jewish belief. In addition, the Muslim minority of the 15 to 20 million Alevis in Turkey faces major impediments with regard to the exercise of their belief.
While Atatürk`s foundation of a modern Turkish nation is based on the principle of laicism, placing religion in the private sphere, the definition of the “Turkish” nation was always equated with a “Muslim” nation. Accordingly, devotees of an alien religion were considered as danger to national unity. Although the Treaty of Lausanne grants special legal minority status to “non-Muslim minorities” and even the Turkish Constitution enshrines freedom of belief, worship and prohibition of discrimination on religious grounds, these principles were invalidated by contradictory articles and the adoption of problematic laws, such as the law on foundations.
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