Religious freedom advocates have warned that Turkey is embarking on a propaganda campaign to “whitewash” its treatment of religious minorities, and urged the US State Department to designate Turkey as a country of particular concern.
At the National Summit for the Defense of Christians, held in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, discussed the latest trends regarding the persecution of ethnic minorities and nuns in Turkey. He alleged that the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forcing religious minorities into a propaganda campaign designed to paint a picture of a tolerant government to the rest of the world.
â€œWe are moving into an era of captured communities,â€ he said. â€œI characterize what came before as excluded communities, discriminated against communities, targeted communities, but captured communities, in my opinion, represent a more advanced form of discrimination and subjugation in the sense that does not ask these communities to be active agents in their own subjugation and complicit in the laundering of the atrocities of the Erdogan regime.
Erdemir added: â€œThe leaders, both religious and secular of non-Muslim communities in Turkey are now expected to be willing and capable actors to whitewash the regime’s persecution and crimes. He cited examples of coercion from religious minorities in Turkey, including being forced “to attend ceremonies or sign statements or play props in various dress-up attempts to show that the government Erdogan is tolerant, benevolent and embracing minorities â€.
â€œIt could simply be a letter imposed on religious minorities in Turkey where they state that there is no pressure on religious minorities in Turkey. â€¦ It could be a letter for them to express their support for Turkish cross-border military operations in northern Syria.
Erdemir pointed out another source of concern for Western governments and advocates of religious freedom: â€œThere is a blossoming of museums, churches and synagogues which do not serve as halls of worship, places of worship, but tourist shows, museums that the government restores and manages and then maybe one day a year allows religious ceremonies but usesâ€¦ 365 days a year to present government tolerance and benevolence as talking points, as props, as facade.
After urging the United States and other Western governments “not to participate in such laundering ceremonies at such sites and to give legitimacy and credibility to the Erdogan government stunts,” Erdemir called on the State Department to designate Turkey as a â€œcountry of particular concernâ€.
The State Department awards the CPC label to nations engaged in “serious violations of religious freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act 1998.
According to the State Department, the 1998 law defines “serious violations of religious freedom as systematic, continuous and flagrant violations of religious freedom, including violations such as torture, degrading treatment or punishment, detention prolonged without charge, kidnapping or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty or security of person.
Erdemir argued that Erdogan’s conversion of a revered Christian monument, the Hagia Sophia, into a mosque deserved Turkey’s designation as a CPC.
â€œThe Erdogan government must end the state-sponsored and sanctioned spread of hatred and plots against religious minorities, which make them victims of crimes and hate speech and then make them even more dependent on benevolence and good graces from the Erdogan government for protection, â€he proclaimed.
Another panel member, Amy Austin Holmes of the Council on Foreign Relations, explained how a Christian left behind to protect his family’s land while the rest of the family fled the Turkish-occupied Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn , was forced to participate in a propaganda campaign.
Holmes explained that one day, Turkish-backed militias “came up to him and told him they wanted him to basically participate in a propaganda video … it was to try to convince the world that things were not so bad in Ras al-Ayn and that there is, in fact, at least this Christian who is still there.
While the man initially agreed to comply with the militia’s request and said he would make the video the next day, he ended up escaping that night rather than taking part in the campaign. Holmes indicated that the aforementioned situation is not a unique phenomenon.
Holmes claimed that many religious and ethnic minorities fled the area. By abandoning their properties, “the militias supported by Turkey have appropriated their [properties] and were enriched by the houses that were left empty. She called on the United States to “ensure that it is possible for all those who have fled these areas to return, to recover their property, to receive compensation for stolen or damaged property.”
Describing them as “dominated subjects of a sectarian and unequal regime” and “slaves or subjects subject to de jure and de facto”, Erdemir explained the impact of religious minorities fleeing Turkey: “The Greek Orthodox of Turkey are now less than 2,000, maybe 1,500, almost all over the age of 60.
â€œTurkey’s Jewish community now numbers less than 17,000 people. Minorities are therefore disappearing in Turkey.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for the Christian Post. He can be contacted at: [email protected]