The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2012 Annual Report reviewing religious freedom abuses in 25 countries around the world.
FINDINGS: Due to the Turkish government‘s systematic and egregious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief that affect all religious communities in Turkey, and particularly threaten the country‘s non-Muslim religious minorities, USCIRF recommends Turkey be designated a ―country of particular concern.‖ The Turkish government, in the name of secularism, has long imposed burdensome regulations and denied full legal status to religious groups, violating the religious freedom rights of all religious communities. These restrictions, including policies that deny non-Muslim communities the rights to train clergy, offer religious education, and own and maintain places of worship, have led to their decline, and in some cases, their virtual disappearance. Turkey has a democratic government, and the country‘s constitution protects the freedom of belief and worship. While the political climate in Turkey is generally more open to public debate on religious freedom matters and the government has recently taken some positive steps on property, education, and religious dress, these ad hoc announcements have not resulted in systematic changes in constitutional and legal structures that would remedy violations of religious freedom for non-Muslim minorities. Longstanding policies continue to threaten the survivability and viability of minority religious communities in Turkey.
Based on these concerns, USCIRF recommends in 2012 that Turkey be designated a country of particular concern (CPC).** Turkey was on the USCIRF Watch List from 2009 to 2011.
The state‘s strict control of religion in the public sphere significantly restricts religious freedom, especially for non-Muslim religious minority communities – including the Greek, Armenian, and Syriac Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, and the Jewish community – as well as for the majority Sunni Muslim community and the country‘s largest minority, the Alevis. Other concerns include the Turkish government‘s intervention into minority religious communities‘ religious affairs; societal discrimination and occasional violence against religious minorities; limitations on religious dress; and anti-Semitism in Turkish society and media. Additionally, Turkey‘s military control over northern Cyprus supports numerous arbitrary regulations implemented by local Turkish Cypriot authorities. These regulations limit the religious activities of all non-Muslims living in northern Cyprus, deny these religious communities the right to worship freely and restore, maintain, and utilize their religious properties, and threaten the long-term survival of non-Muslim religious communities in the area.
PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS: The United States regards Turkey as an important strategic partner and continues to support Turkey‘s European Union accession process. By designating Turkey as a CPC, U.S. policy should urge Turkey to comply with its international commitments regarding freedom of religion or belief by ending its longstanding denial of full legal recognition for religious communities and permitting religious minorities to train religious clergy in Turkey, including by reopening the Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary of Halki and returning the entire territory of the Mor Gabriel Syrian Orthodox monastery. With respect to northern Cyprus, the United States should urge the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities to end all restrictions on the access, use, and restoration of places of worship and cemeteries for religious minorities, and cease the ongoing desecration of religious sites. Additional recommendations for U.S. policy can be found at the end of this chapter.
199U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 2012 Annual Report
* House Resolution 1631 called on USCIRF to ―investigate and make recommendations on violations of religious freedom in the areas of northern Cyprus under control of the Turkish military.‖
**Commissioners al-Hibri, Gaer, Shaw, and Van Der Meid dissented from the CPC recommendation for Turkey. Their dissenting statements can be found at the end of the chapter.