Christianity in Turkey
|Religion in Turkey |
|Secularism in Turkey|
|Irreligion in Turkey|
|Christianity by country|
Christianity in Turkey has had a long history dating back to the 1st-century AD. In modern times the percentage of Christians in Turkey has declined from 20-25 percent in 1914 to 3-5.5 percent in 1927, to 2% today. This was due to events which had a significant impact on the country's demographic structure, such as the First World War, the genocide of Assyrian, Greeks and Armenians, the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, and the emigration of Christians (such as Assyrians, Greeks, Armenians etc.) to foreign countries (mostly in Europe and the Americas) that actually began in the late 19th century and gained pace in the first quarter of the 20th century, especially during World War I. Today there are more than 320,000 people of different Christian denominations, representing less than 0.4 percent of Turkey's population, including an estimated 80,000 Oriental Orthodox, 35,000 Catholics, 18,000 Antiochian Greeks, 5,000 Greek Orthodox and 8,000 Protestants, mostly ethnic Turkish. There is also a small group of ethnic Orthodox-Christian Turks (mostly living in Istanbul or Izmir) who follow the Greek Orthodox or Syriac Orthodox church. They are often confused with ethnic Greeks. Some of them actually have a Greek background, but there are ethnic Turks, who never converted to Islam in the history between this population. Currently there are 236 churches open for worship in Turkey. The Eastern Orthodox Church has been headquartered in Constantinople since the 4th century.
The Cappadocian Fathers produced some of the earliest hagiographies in the region. In addition to writings about feminine virtue by Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzos, later texts about Nicholas of Sion and Theodore of Sykeon described miracles and rural life.
Edessa was an early center of Syriac Orthodox Church, which had accepted only the first three ecumenical councils: Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431). They were strongly opposed to Chalcedonian Creed that had been established by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Oriental Orthodox Church that originated in Antioch continued to fracture into multiple denominations. Some Armenian miaphysite Christians sought to reunite with Rome in later centuries, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
The Eastern Orthodox Church split from Rome during the Great Schism of 1054. With the arrival of the crusaders many Orthodox bishops, particularly in Antioch, were replaced by Latin prelates. After the Mongols defeated the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, the Armenians and Nestorians had decent relations with the conquering Il-khans for a time, but by the end of the 14th-century many Syrian Orthodox and Nestorian churches were destroyed when the Turco-Mongolian ruler Temür raided West Asia.
Two out of the five centers (Patriarchates) of the ancient Pentarchy are in Turkey: Constantinople (Istanbul) and Antioch (Antakya). Antioch was also the place where the followers of Jesus were called "Christians" for the first time in history, as well as being the site of one of the earliest and oldest surviving churches, established by Saint Peter himself. For a thousand years, the Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world.
Turkey is also home to the Seven Churches of Asia, where the Revelation to John was sent. Apostle John is reputed to have taken Virgin Mary to Ephesus in western Turkey, where she spent the last days of her life in a small house, known as the House of the Virgin Mary, which still survives today and has been recognized as a holy site for pilgrimage by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as being a Muslim shrine. The cave of the Seven Sleepers is also located in Ephesus.
The death of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (modern day Sivas) is recorded as 320 AD during a persecution by Emperor Licinius. They are mentioned by Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ephrem the Syrian and John Chrysostom.
Late Ottoman Empire
In the 19th century, there were nationalistic campaigns against Assyrians which often had the assistance of Kurdish paramilitary support. In 1915, Turks and Kurds massacred tens of thousands Assyrians in Siirt. Assyrians were attacked in the Hakkari mountains by the Turkish army with the help of Kurdish tribes, and many Christians were deported and about a quarter million Assyrians were murdered or died due to persecution. This number doubles if the killings during the 1890s are included. Kurds saw the Assyrians as dangerous foreigners and enforcers of the British colonizers, which made it justifiable to them to commit ethnic cleansing. The Kurds fought the Assyrians also due to fears that the Armenians, or European colonial powers backing them, would assume control in Anatolia. Kurdish military plundered Armenian and other Christian villages.
In the 1890s the Hamidiye (Kurdish paramilitary units) attacked Armenians in a series of clashes that culminated in the pogroms of 1894-1896 and the Adana massacre in 1909. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 300,000 Armenians were killed during these pre-War massacres.
First World War
During the tumultuous period of the first world war, up to 3 million indigenous Christians are alleged to have been killed. Prior to this time, the Christian population stood at around 20% of the total. According to professor Martin van Bruinessen, relations between Christians and Kurdish and other Muslim peoples were often bitter and during World War I "Christians of Tur Abdin (in Turkey) for instance have been subjected to brutal treatment by Kurdish tribes, who took their land and even their daughters".
Kurdish-dominated Hamidiye slaughtered Christian Armenians in Tur Abdin region in 1915. It is estimated that ten thousand Assyrians were killed, and reportedly "the skulls of small children were smashed with rocks, the bodies of girls and women who resisted rape were chopped into pieces live, men were mostly beheaded, and the clergy skinned or burnt alive...." In 1915, Turks and Kurds plundered the Assyrian village of Mar-Zaya in Jelu and slaughtered the population, it is estimated that 7,000 Assyrians were slaughtered during this period. In September 1914 more than 30 Armenian and Assyrian villages were burnt by Kurdish and Turkish mobs in the Urmia region. After the Russian army retreated, Turkish troops with Kurdish detachments organized mass slaughters of Assyrians, in the Assyrian village of Haftvan 750 men were beheaded and 5000 assyrian women were taken to kurdish harems. Turks and Kurds also slaughtered Christians in Diarbekir. There was a policy during the Hamidian era to use Kurdish tribes as irregulars (Hamidiye units) against the Armenians.
Treaty of Lausanne
The Greek forces who occupied Smyrna in the post-war period were defeated in the Turkish War of Independence which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. Under the terms of the peace treaty, 1.2 million Greek Orthodox residents of Turkey were relocated to Greece and around 400,000 Muslims were likewise moved from Greece to Turkey. When the Turkish state was founded in 1923 the remaining Greek population was estimated to be around 111,000; the Greek Orthodox communities in Istanbul, Gökçeada, and Bozcaada were exempted. Other terms of the treaty included various provisions to protect the rights of religious minorities and a concession by the Turks to allow the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to remain in Istanbul.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designated Turkey a "Country of Particular Concern" for religious freedom, noting “systematic limitations on the freedom of religion or belief” with respect to access to places of worship, religious education and right to train clergy. The report does note some areas of improvement such as better protection of the property rights of non-Muslims.
In the pre-war period American missionaries had been actively involved in the Ottoman education system. Many of the schools were closed down and suffered under stringent regulations and burdensome taxes during the country's secularization. Historically, these schools had worked with the Ottoman Empire's Christian communities, and were regarded with suspicion by the fledgling state. One contemporary account noted that "If American opinion has been uninformed, misinformed and prejudiced, the missionaries are largely to blame. Interpreting history in terms of the advance of Christianity, they have given an inadequate, distorted, and occasionally grotesque picture of Moslems and Islam."
A number of high-profile incidents targeting non-Muslims, including Christians, have occurred since the modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923. During the Istanbul pogrom of 1955, non-Muslims (pejoratively called gayrimüslim) were attacked, harassed and killed by Turkish Muslims. In 2007, one German Protestant and two Turkish converts were tortured to death in Malatya by five men in the Zirve Publishing House murders. Turkish media called these killings the "missionary massacres".
In 2001, Turkey's National Security Council reported that it considers Protestant missionaries the third largest threat to Turkey's national security, surpassed only by Islamic fundamentalism and the Kurdish separatist organization PKK. A 2004 report by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) similarly recommended implementing new laws to curb missionary activity. According to the Turkish Evangelical Churches movement, Turkish Protestant churches had only 3,000 members in 2009—about half of these were converts from Islam, while the others were Armenian and Syriac Christians. Since Turkish nationality was often perceived exclusively as a Muslim identity after the Balkan Wars, the influence of Protestant missionaries on Turkey's Alevi population has been a concern since the era of Committee of Union and Progress rule. In 2016 the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey released a report warning of an increase in anti-Christian hate speech.
Turkey's Christian community has been largely non-disruptive, with the notable exception of one convert, who hijacked Turkish Airlines Flight 1476 with the stated intent of flying it to the Vatican to meet the Pope and ask for his help to avoid serving in a "Muslim army".
In 2013, the Washington Post reported that members of the ruling Ak Parti had expressed their desires to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Hagia Sophia, which is called ayasofya in Turkish, is an ancient church dating to 360 AD that was converted into a mosque after Mehmed II conquered Constantinople in 1453. It has been a museum since 1935. Patriarch Bartholomew objected to the government's rhetoric, saying "If it is to reopen as a house of worship, then it should open as a Christian church.” Also in 2013, the government announced that the 5th-century Monastery of Stoudios, located in Istanbul's Samatya neighborhood, would be converted into a mosque. The monastery, one of Byzantium's most important, was sacked during the Crusades and later served as a mosque for a time, until it was converted to a museum during the 20th-century.
Today the Christian population of Turkey is estimated at more than 320,000 Christians. 35,000 Catholics of varying ethnicities, 25,000 ethnic Assyrians, (mostly followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church and Chaldean Catholic Church), up to 22,000 Greeks (3,000-4,000 Greek Orthodox, 15,000-18,000 Antiochian Greeks) and smaller numbers of Bulgarians, Georgians, and Protestants of various ethnicities.
In 2015 the Turkish government gave permission for the Christian channel SAT-7 to broadcast on the government-regulated Türksat satellite.
The largest Christian population in Turkey is in Istanbul, which has a large community of Armenians and Greeks. Istanbul is also where the Patriarchate of Greek Orthodox Christianity is located. Antioch, located in Turkey's Hatay province, is the original seat of the namesake Antiochian Orthodox Church, but is now the titular see. The area, known for having ethnic diversity and large Christian community, has 7,000 Christians and 14 active churches. The city has one of the oldest churches in the world as well, called the Church of St Peter, which is said to have been founded by the Saint himself.
Tur Abdin is a large area with a multitude of mostly Syriac Orthodox churches, monasteries and ruins. Settlements in Tur Abdin include Midyat. The Christian community in Midyat is supplemented by a refugee community from Syria and has four operating churches. Some of the most significant Syriac churches and monasteries in existence are in or near Midyat including Mor Gabriel Monastery and the Saffron Monastery.
Churches in Turkey
The Anglicans in Turkey form part of the Eastern Archdeaconry of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. In 2008 the Bishop of Europe, Geoffrey Rowell, caused controversy by ordaining a local man to minister to Turkish-speaking Anglicans in Istanbul.
Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its origins to St. Gregory the Illuminator who is credited with having introduced the Armenian king Tiridates III to Christianity. It is one of the most ancient churches. Historically, the Armenian Church accepted only the first three Ecumenical Councils, rejecting the Council of Chalcedon in 451; its Christology is sometimes described as "non-Chalcedonian" for this reason. The Bible was first translated into the Armenian language by St. Mashtos.
Turkey's Armenian Christian community is led by the Armenian Patriarchates of Istanbul and Jerusalem. As of 2008 estimates of Turkey's Armenian Orthodox population range from between 50,000 and 70,000.
There are 35 churches maintained by the religious foundation in Istanbul and its surrounding areas. Besides Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchal Church (translation: the Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Patriarchal Church) in Kumkapi, Istanbul, there are tens of Armenian Apostolic churches. There are other churches in Kayseri, Diyarbakır, Derik, İskenderun, and Vakifli Koyu that are claimed by foundations as well. Around 1,000 Armenian churches throughout Turkey sit on public or privately owned land as well, with them all either being re-purposed or abandoned and/or in ruins.
Greek Orthodox Church
Constantinople became established in the ecclesiastical hierarchy at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Second only to Rome, the legendary origins of the Patriarchate of Constantinople go back to St. Andrew, Metrophanes and Alexander of Constantinople. Constantinople's primacy over the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch was reaffirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 481, after which the papacy in Rome supported Constantinople in its dispute with Alexandria over monophysitism. Later, when Rome sought to assert its primacy over Byzantium, the Eastern Orthodox church developed the doctrine of pentarchy as a response.
During the 8th and 9th centuries, Byzantium was embroiled in the Iconoclastic persecution. The Photian schism was also 9th century power struggle for the Patriarchate between Ignatios, backed by Pope Nicholas I, and Photios I of Constantinople.
The Byzantine rite is similar to mass in the Catholic Church and the Divine Office (cycle of eight non-Mass services in the Catholic faith). In addition to the Hours of the Office, the Byzantine rite is used for sacraments (including marriage and baptism), ordination, funerals, blessings and other occasions. The three divine liturgies of the Byzantine rite are John Chrysostom’s, Basil’s, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
Antioch is the official seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. Hatay Province including Antakya is not part of the canonic area of the Church of Constantinople. Most of the local orthodox persons are Arabic-speaking.
- Turkish Orthodox Church (unrecognized by all other churches in the world) was created by Turkish nationalists who tried to create a Turkish national church to counter the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for political reasons.
Though the Armenian Apostolic Church was no longer in union with Rome and Byzantium after the Council of Chalcedon, a number of Armenians have converted to Catholicism over the years. After the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II extended formal recognition to Catholics, an Armenian Catholic Patriarchate was established in Constantinople.
- Vicariate Apostolic of Istanbul
- Vicariate Apostolic of Anatolia
- Archdiocese of Izmir
- Archeparchy of Istanbul (Armenian)
- Archeparchy of Diyarbakir (Chaldaean)
- Vicariate Apostolic of Istanbul (Byzantine)
- Church of St Peter of Antakya
- Church: Church of St Peter
The Armenian Evangelical Church was founded in 1846, after Patriarch Matteos Chouhajian excommunicated members of the "Pietisical Union" who had started to raise questions about possible conflicts between scripture and Church traditions. The new church was recognized by the Ottoman government in 1850 after encouragement from the British Ambassdor Henry Wellesley Cowley. There were reportedly 15 Turkish converts in Constantinople in 1864. One church minister said "We wanted the Turks first to become Armenian". Hagop A. Chakmakjian commented that "the implication was that to be Christian meant to be identified with the Armenian people".
Churches of the West Syriac Rite
The Christian population of the West Syriac Rite probably has the most regional influence in Turkey, as its population wasn't confined to or was centered in Istanbul like the rest of the Christian communities of Turkey were. Active churches are located in Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Adiyaman, and Elazig. There are many both active and inactive churches in the traditionally Neo-Aramaic area of Tur Abdin, which is a region centered in the western area of(Mardin province, and has areas that go into Sirnak, and Batman Province. Up until the 1980s the Syriac population was concentrated there as well, but a large amount of the population has fled the region to Istanbul or abroad due to the Kurdish-Turkish conflict (1978-present). The Church structure is still organized however, with 12 reverends stationed in churches and monasteries there. Churches were also in several other provinces as well, but in the Assyrian Genocide the churches in those provinces were destroyed or left ruined.
Churches of the West Syriac Rite include:
Churches of the East Syriac Rite
The Nestorian (Assyrian Church of the East) church in Turkey was completely wiped out in the Assyrian Genocide, although they were originally centered in Hakkari. The Chaldean Branch is based primarily in Istanbul, although its church structure is centered in Diyarbakir.
Churches of the East Syriac Rite include:
There are churches for foreigners in compounds and resorts, although they are not counted in lists of churches as they are only used by Tourists and Expats.
Status of churches in Turkey
|Christ Church, Istanbul||active|
|St. John the Evangelist's Anglican Church, Izmir||active|
Churches of the Armenian rite
|Church of the Apparition of the Holy Cross (Kuruçeşme, Istanbul)|
Yerevman Surp Haç Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Archangels Armenian Church (Balat, Istanbul)|
Surp Hıreşdagabed Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Cross Armenian Church (Kartal, Istanbul)|
Surp Nişan Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Cross Armenian Church (Üskudar, Istanbul)|
Surp Haç Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Hripsimiants Virgins Armenian Church (Büyükdere, Istanbul)|
Surp Hripsimyants Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Apostolic Church (Bakırköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Asdvadzadzin Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Church (Beşiktaş, Istanbul)|
Surp Asdvadzadzin Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Church (Eyüp, Istanbul)|
Surp Asdvadzadzin Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Church (Ortaköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Asdvadzadzin Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Mother-of-God Armenian Church (Yeniköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Asdvadzadzin Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Resurrection Armenian Church (Kumkapı, Istanbul)|
Surp Harutyun Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Resurrection Armenian Church (Taksim, Istanbul)|
Surp Harutyun Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Three Youths Armenian Church (Boyacıköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Yerits Mangants Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Galatasaray, Istanbul)|
Surp Yerrortutyun Ermeni Kilisesi
|Narlıkapı Armenian Apostolic Church (Narlıkapı, Istanbul)|
Surp Hovhannes Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Elijah The Prophet Armenian Church (Eyüp, Istanbul)|
Surp Yeğya Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Garabed Armenian Church (Üsküdar, Istanbul)|
Surp Garabet Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. John the Baptist Armenian Church (Uskudar)||unknown|
|St. John The Evangelist Armenian Church (Gedikpaşa, Istanbul)|
Surp Hovhannes Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. George (Sourp Kevork) Armenian Church (Samatya, Istanbul)||unknown|
|St. Gregory The Enlightener Armenian Church (Galata, Istanbul)||active|
|St. Gregory The Enlightener Armenian Church (Kuzguncuk, Istanbul)|
Surp Krikor Lusaroviç Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Gregory The Enlightener Armenian Church (Karaköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Gregory The Enlightener (Kınalıada, Istanbul)Armenial Church |
Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Ermeni Kilisesi
|[[St. James Armenian Church (Altımermer, Istanbul)]]|
Surp Hagop Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Nicholas Armenian Church (Beykoz, Istanbul)|
Surp Nigoğayos Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Nicholas Armenian Church (Topkapı, Istanbul)|
Surp Nigoğayos Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Santoukht Armenian Church (Rumelihisarı, Istanbul)|
Surp Santuht Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Saviour Armenian Chapel (Yedikule, Istanbul)|
Surp Pırgiç Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Sergius Armenian Chapel (Balıklı, Istanbul)|
Surp Sarkis Anıt Mezar Şapeli
|St. Stephen Armenian Church (Karaköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Istepanos Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Stephen Armenian Church (Yeşilköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Istepanos Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Takavor Armenian Apostolic Church (Kadıkoy, Istanbul)|
Surp Takavor Ermeni Kilisesi
|Saints Thaddeus and Barholomew Armenian Church (Yenikapı, Istanbul)|
Surp Tateos Partoğomeos Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Vartanants Armenian Church (Feriköy, Istanbul)|
Surp Vartanants Ermeni Kilisesi
|The Twelve Holy Apostles Armenian Church (Kandilli, Istanbul)|
Surp Yergodasan Arakelots Ermeni Kilisesi
|Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastea Armenian Church (Iskenderun, Hatay)|
Surp Karasun Manuk Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. George Armenian Church (Derik, Mardin)|
Surp Kevork Ermeni Kilisesi
|St. Gregory The Enlightener Armenian Church (Kayseri)|
Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Ermeni Kilisesi
|services held once or twice a year|
|St. Gregory The Enligtener Armenian Church (Kırıkhan, Hatay)|
Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Kilisesi
|St. Giragos Armenian Church (Diyarbakır)|
Surp Giragos Ermeni Kilisesi
|closed - confiscated by the Turkish State|
|Cathedral of Ani||abandoned following 1319 earthquake|
|Cathedral of Kars||converted into a mosque|
|Cathedral of Mren||ruins|
|Holy Apostles Monastery||ruins|
|Narekavank||destroyed, mosque build on the site|
|Saint Bartholomew Monastery||ruins|
|Saint Karapet Monastery||destroyed, village built on the site|
|St. Marineh Church, Mush||ruins|
|St. Stepanos Church||destroyed|
|Armenian church in Vakıflı|
Vakıflıköy Ermeni Kilisesi
Churches of the Byzantine rite
|Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Istanbul||active|
|St. Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul||active|
|Cathedral of the Annunciation, İskenderun||active|
|Church of St. Anthony, Mersin||active|
|St. John's Cathedral, Izmir||active|
|Church of St Peter||museum|
|Church of San Domenico (Constantinople)||converted into a mosque|
|Church of SS Peter and Paul, Istanbul||active|
Churches of the Georgian rite
|Notre Dame de Lourdes (Turkey) (Bomonti Gürcü Katolik Kilisesi)||active|
|Oshki (Öşki Manastırı/Öşk Vank/Çamlıyamaç)||abandoned|
|Khakhuli Monastery (Haho/Bağbaşı)||converted into a mosque|
|Doliskana (Dolishane/Hamamlıköy)||converted into a mosque|
|Bana cathedral (Penek)||ruins|
|Tbeti Monastery (Cevizli)||ruins|
|old Georgian Church, Ani||ruins|
|Parkhali (Barhal/Altıparmak)||converted into a mosque|
|Otkhta Eklesia (Dörtkilise)||abandoned|
|Makriali St. George church, Kemalpaşa, Artvin||ruins|
|St. Barlaam Monastery (Barlaham Manastırı), Yayladağı||ruins|
Churches of the Syriac rite
|Mor Sharbel Syriac Orthodox church in Midyat||active|
|Mor Gabriel Monastery||active|
|Mor Hananyo Monastery||active|
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