The Vanishing Act of the Church in Turkey
Only those who are mindful of history can fully appreciate the significance of Turkey's expected admission to the European Union. The bitterness spawned by centuries of warfare and political rivalry has now given way to a new era of diplomatic and economic engagement. Yet, Turkey's troublesome record of human-rights abuses remains a considerable stumbling block for a few wary EU nations. In particular, the Ankara government is still prone to crack down on ethnic and religious minorities when perceived as a threat to nationalist identity. A sign of the government's suspicion: non-Muslim clergy are still forbidden from training there.
Many Greek and Armenian Christians in Turkey suffer the double ignominy of religious and ethnic marginalization. Though the government is officially secular and many Turks are only nominally Muslim, conversion to Christianity is considered a betrayal of heritage and homeland. Persecution stemming from this perspective has stunted church growth and crippled the small Christian community.
But for these Christians, EU admission offers hope. A handful of Greek Christians remain in Turkey, holdovers from a bygone era of Hellenistic influence in Asia Minor. Their hope is that increased trade activity with Europe will invite Greeks to return to Istanbul, where they can broker business and diplomacy between Western Europe and the Muslim world.
The hope is different for Turkey's approximately 45,000 Armenians, a traditionally Christian people. They believe Ankara's engagement with the West will stimulate further reforms in the democratic system, possibly even allowing the government to admit the murder of nearly 1.5 million Armenians by Turkish authorities during World War I.
In both cases, EU access functions ...