Turkish Authoritarian Drift Reported
Our intervention at the UN against the Turkish authoritarian drift
The attitude of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has for years now been a legitimate concern for Christians, the European institutions and, more broadly, for anyone committed to the rule of law.
The ECLJ intervened in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council during its 45th session to denounce Erdoğan’s latest acts before the Turkish representation and those of other countries of the world:
Appointed prime minister in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan amended the constitution and gradually transformed Turkey from a democratic state to a dictatorship, particularly since the coup d'état of 2016, which allowed him to consolidate his power.
On October 23, 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe held an emergency debate: “New crackdown on political opposition and civil dissent in Turkey: urgent need to safeguard Council of Europe standards.”
During this autumn 2020 session, the Assembly also expresses concern about violations of “Threats to academic freedom and autonomy of higher education institutions in Europe”.
Yet, in September 2020, the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Robert Spano, paid a highly criticized visit to Turkey, meeting with all official authorities but no NGOs or minorities. He even received an academic prize from a University of Istanbul that had purged hundreds of professors.
The ECLJ has been denouncing for several years the lack of reaction of the European institutions to Turkey’s serious and repeated attacks on the rule of law. Several years ago, Turkey had already been suspected of corruption at the Council of Europe while the country was building a huge embassy in Strasbourg, totally oversized. According to some sources, these buildings were actually used as a European antenna by the Turkish secret services.
In religious matters, it was the conversion of the famous Basilica of Saint Sophia in Constantinople that shocked the world in the middle of the summer of 2020. A historic cathedral, later transformed into a mosque before becoming a museum at the beginning of the 20th century under President Atatürk, in a desire to fight against Islamism. By opening this Christian place to Muslim prayer, President Erdoğan shows his plan for Islamism.
This Islamization is not an isolated case. A few weeks later, the President decided that another ancient Byzantine church would also be transformed from a museum into a mosque: the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, in Istanbul .
As we explain in this Memorandum on the freedom of Christians in Turkey, these acts are particularly dramatic because many Christians in Turkey do not have places of worship. The Turkish administration is making it very difficult for them to gather in a place to pray, and many churches have been illegally taken over by the government. Pastor Brunson, whom we have made widely known to the European Parliament and to the Assembly of the Council of Europe, has been released from Turkish prisons and was able to testify last year before the Members of the European Parliament about these growing difficulties for Christians in Turkey (watch his full speech here).
Transcription of the oral statement:
Madam Vice President,
Religious freedom in Turkey is dramatically worsening. Christians and other religious minorities keep decreasing while discriminations against them do not stop.
The ECLJ does not share the optimistic appreciation of the situation provided by the Turkish delegation in the Universal Periodic Review of Turkey and adopted by this Human Rights Council, especially concerning “the return of property to community foundations” (§28).
As a historic counter example, we want to denounce here Turkey’s President Erdoğan order to convert a historic 15 hundred-year-old Christian church from a Museum into a functioning Islamic mosque.
For more than nine centuries, Hagia Sophia was the pre-eminent Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Multiple world and religious leaders, including Islamic groups, rightfully criticized this conversion for what it is: a denial of both history and heritage, for Turkey and the world.
A month later, President Erdoğan converted another former Byzantine Church into a functioning Mosque, that of Chora, in Istanbul.
Madam Vice President,
These sad examples illustrate the lack of respect that Turkey has for Christians and other non-Muslim minorities. This Council should firmly remind Turkey of its obligations to guarantee religious freedom, including the legal faculty of possessing and establishing places of worship. Otherwise, within a few decades, there won’t be any religious minority left in Turkey.
 Anne Dastakian, « Strasbourg, cheval de Troie des réseaux d'Erdogan en France », Marianne, 17 octobre 2020.