11/06/2019 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – According to local Turkish News, an unnamed person from the Sur district of the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir filed a petition to the National Assembly claiming that “protestant churches and associations were carrying out missionary activities.” The petition demanded the closure of the churches. It was accepted by the commission for evaluation.
The context surrounding this petition includes three important features. The first is that it touches upon Turkey’s uneasy culture regarding missionaries. Indeed, in Turkey the word is often used interchangeably to reference espionage activities by the West under the guise of Christianity. Many local Christians fear the consequences of being connected with missionary activities named as such, since it often becomes an accusation where they have to defend their loyalty to their country.
The second is that this petition is regarding churches in southeastern Turkey. This area has a strong Kurdish presence, which the government uses to justify an increased harsher presence compared to the rest of the country. Since this region shares a border with Syria, Turkey’s invasion is also felt more strongly. Christians living here find themselves in a difficult position because of the political environment.
The third is that although the petition references churches and associations, it is slightly misleading. Turkey does not have a clear pathway to church legalization—indeed, there are very few protestant churches who have official recognition from the government as a church. Since Turkey has no real legal framework which would apply to churches, many find themselves forced within the framework of operating as an association or foundation.
While it is unlikely that mass church closures would occur in Turkey as a result of this petition, it does highlight the deep challenges faced by local Christians, especially those located within deeply politicized zones.