International Religious Freedom Report of 2011 (Turkey)

Anadolu Agency

U.S. Department of State made public its 2011 International Religious Freedoms report.

In the section on Turkey, the report drew attention to the Turkish government’s steps to facilitate the return of property to minority foundations.

“The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom, and in practice, the Turkish government generally respected religious freedom,” the report said.

“However, some constitutional provisions restricted this right. The government’s actions demonstrated a trend of improving respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom. Notably, the government issued a decree facilitating the return of or compensation for property confiscated from religious community foundations in previous decades,” the report stated.

“The government continued to impose limitations on Muslims and other religious groups, including restrictions on Muslim religious expression in government offices for the stated reason of preserving the “secular state,” the report underlined.

”The Turkish government did not clarify the legal authority under which the Greek Orthodox Halki seminary could reopen after being closed for 40 years. Some religious groups also faced restrictions on freedom of worship, difficulties in registration with the government, property ownership, and the training of their followers and clergy. Although engaging in religious speech and persuasion are legal, some Muslims, Christians, and Baha’is faced restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or providing religious instruction to children,” the report indicated.

“Embassy and consulate officials, as well as frequent U.S. government visitors, took close interest in religious freedom in the country. During the year, embassy and consulate representatives met frequently with government officials and representatives of religious groups to discuss matters related to religious freedom, including legal reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups and property restitution issues,” the report noted.

“During the year, the government as well as local municipalities took steps to improve religious freedom. Notably, the government allowed community foundations to regain property that had been confiscated in previous decades and allowed certain new community foundations to be formed,” the report stressed.

“As happened in 2010, the government again permitted annual religious worship services to be held in religiously significant sites that had previously been converted to state museums, such as Sumela Monastery near Trabzon, Akdamar Church near Van, St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk. Some municipal leaders called for these sites to be opened to worship more frequently,” the report said.

“The municipality of Diyarbakir contributed support and a third of the money to the renovation of St. Giragos, an abandoned Armenian church in the city. Several municipalities around the country initiated plans to convert former churches, which had been standing abandoned or used as commercial venues, to cultural centers or museums with an emphasis on the religious significance of the building,” the report stated.

“As of July, graduates of imam hatip schools no longer faced an automatic minimal reduction in their university entrance examination grades if they applied for university programs other than theology, making it easier for them to study in any program they wish,” the report emphasized.

“In December, the government officially commemorated the Alevi holy day of Ashura for the first time,” the report stressed.

“In December, the General Directorate of Foundations (GDF) established a Jewish Foundation in Izmir, the first new religious community foundation,” the report also said.