Turkey

World Watch ranking: 50
Map thumbnail
Leader
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

How many Christians?
169,000 (0.2%)

Main threats
  • Islamic oppression
  • Religious nationalism

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How many Christians are there in Turkey?

Almost all of Turkey’s population of 86 million is Muslim – there are only about 169,000 Christians.  

How are Christians persecuted in Turkey?

The combination of rising religious nationalism and a growing emphasis on Islamic values by the government is intensifying the pressure on believers in Turkey. 

Foreign Christians continue to be forced to leave the country or banned from returning, including those with Turkish spouses and children. These bans seem to be a deliberate attempt to isolate the non-traditional churches. Historical Christian communities are monitored regularly and subjected to controls and limitations by the government.

Although conversion from Islam to Christianity is not legally forbidden, anyone who is not a Muslim, or who converts to a different faith, is seen as a disloyal Turk. Christians are viewed as a negative Western influence, and those who choose to follow Jesus – whether from Islam or secularism – can face pressure from their families and communities to recant their faith. Even Christians from minority ethnic backgrounds, such as Greeks and Armenians, are pressured in the form of various legal and bureaucratic challenges. And given that religious affiliation registered on the electronic chip inside ID cards, it’s easy for employers, particularly those with connections to the state, to discriminate against believers. 

Turkey is also home to converts from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. On top of pressure from Turkish society and government officials, these believers face pressure from their own families and communities. Many are fearful of making contact with local churches because of the risk of discovery by community members.

What’s life like for Christians in Turkey?

Within most parts of Turkey’s Islamic society, women are often considered to have less authority than men and are subject to familial control. There is an expectation for women and girls to honour their families through the decisions they make. A Muslim woman who becomes a Christian, or marries a Christian, is considered to go against this expectation, and can face house arrest, rejection, verbal abuse, harassment and sexual violence. Female converts in rural areas are most at risk. Given the rising emphasis on Islam in society, those who don’t adhere to Islamic dress codes are at risk of harassment, insults and even violence.

In Turkey, men are expected to be defenders of Islam and Turkishness, concepts that are closely aligned in public perception. The pressure to live up to that expectation can prevent them from ever setting foot in a church. Men who become Christians can encounter threats, arrest, imprisonment, job loss, disinheritance or expulsion from the family.

The pressure extends to obligatory military service. Those known to be Christian are likely to be viewed with suspicion by their superiors and face bullying from their peers. One convert conscripted to the army had to keep his faith secret because it became almost impossible to maintain any form of devotional practice.

Is it getting easier to be a Christian in Turkey?

Turkey has fallen nine places on the World Watch List, and this is largely because there were fewer incidents of churches being attacked in the past year. At the same time, societal attitudes towards the church have not significantly changed and more foreign Christians have received entry bans in 2023 than in previous years.

How can I help Christians in Turkey?

Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Turkey. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.

Open Doors raises prayer support for persecuted believers in Turkey. Through local partners, Open Doors supports Persian-speaking refugee believers with training, resources and practical support.

please pray

Lord Jesus, we pray that our sisters and brothers in Turkey will not grow disheartened by the rising hostility many of them are experiencing. Provide breakthroughs for those frustrated by bureaucratic and legal obstacles, and give them hope amid the waiting. Soften the hearts of key figures in government and Islamic circles, so that believers are not seen as a threat but as valued members of Turkish society. Lead and empower Christians as they seek to show Your love to those around them, including those bringing help following the devastating earthquakes last year. Stem the tide of rising nationalism, and write a new story for Turkey that has Jesus at its heart. Amen.

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