Protestant Christians Face Challenges in Turkey (2023 Report)

Istanbul, Turkey
Unsplash/Anna Berdnik

A report by the Association of Protestant Churches (Protestan Kiliseler Derneği) highlights ongoing difficulties faced by Protestant Christians in Turkey throughout 2023.

The association emphasized the lack of legal pathways for training Christian clergy in Turkey. Turkish law restricts the training of Christian clergy and opening religious schools. Protestants resort to sending students abroad or inviting foreign instructors, but a significant need for religious workers remains.

“Many foreign church leaders were deported, were denied entry into Turkey or faced problems with getting their residence permits renewed,” the report documented deportations of foreign religious workers and visa denials, creating staffing shortages within churches.

Establishing new places of worship or maintaining existing ones proved problematic. The report cites instances of hate speech, vandalism and threats directed at churches. “In 2023, problems continued to be faced with regard to requests to establish a place of worship, to continue using a facility for worship, or with applications to use existing church buildings.”

Physical attacks, verbal abuse and social media threats targeting Christians were reported. These incidents included assaults on pastors, property damage and disruptions during worship services.

In the northern province of Sinop, a local leader of an extremist nationalist organization decided to target a pastor and his church. During a public speech on September 18th, 2023, this individual made clear threats against them. The speech was subsequently shared on social media, causing significant anxiety within the church community. However, despite feeling very apprehensive, the church ultimately chose not to file a formal complaint with the police.

This reluctance to involve law enforcement highlights the chilling effect such threats can have. Even without a formal complaint, the pastor and his congregation were forced to live in fear.

Many new Protestant churches lack official recognition, hindering access to utilities, tax benefits, and legal protections.

“Many of these premises do not have official status as a place of worship, and therefore they are not officially recognized as a place of worship, even though they are used that way,” the association stated.

The report emphasized the need for legal reforms to ensure religious freedom for Protestant Christians in Turkey. This includes granting rights to train clergy, officially recognize new churches, and protect religious workers from harassment and deportation.