Cablegate: Turkey: Draft 2003 Irf

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. The following text is the draft 2003 report on
International Religious Freedom (IRF) for Turkey:

2. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the
Government generally respects this right in practice;
however, the Government imposes some restrictions on
religious groups and on religious expression in government
offices and state-run institutions, including universities.

3. There was no significant change in the status of respect
for religious freedom during the period covered by this
report. Some Muslims, Christians, and Baha,is faced some
restrictions and occasional harassment, including detentions
for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized meetings. The
Government continued to oppose "Islamic fundamentalism." An
intense debate continues over a broad government ban on
wearing Muslim religious dress in state facilities, including
universities, schools, and workplaces. Following the June
2001 closure of the Islamist-led Fazilet (Virtue) party for
"antisecular activities," two new political parties were
formed. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of
one of these new parties, the Islam-influenced AK Party, and
former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the
other, the Islamist Saadet Party, were banned from
participating in the November 2002 national elections due to
past convictions for illegal speech. Erdogan was later
able to enter Parliament and become Prime Minister, and
Erbakan was able to assume the formal leadership of Saadet,
when the terms of their bans from politics ended.

4. Government policy and the generally calm relationship
among religions in society protect religious freedom in
principle. All citizens of Turkey carry an identification
card that lists their religion. Moreover, Christians,
Baha'is and some Muslims face societal suspicion and mistrust
and more radical Islamist elements continue to express
anti-Jewish sentiments.

5. The U.S. Government frequently discusses religious freedom
issues with the Government in the context of its overall
dialog and policy of promoting human rights.


6. The country has a total area of 301,394 square miles, and
its population is approximately 67.8 million. Approximately
99 percent of the population is Muslim, the majority of whom
are Sunni. The level of religious observance varies
throughout the country, in part due to the "secularist"
approach of the Turkish State. In addition to the country's
Sunni Muslim majority, there are an estimated 10 -12 million
Alevis, followers of a belief system based on Islam with a
coloration related to aspects of Shi'ism and influenced by
other religions found in Anatolia. Turkish Alevi rituals
include men and women worshipping together through speeches,
poetry, and dance. The Government considers Alevism a
heterodox Muslim sect; however, some Turkish Alevis and
radical Sunnis maintain Alevis are not Muslims.

7. There are several other religious groups, mostly
concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities. While exact
membership figures are not available, these include an
estimated 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 25,000 Jews,
and from 3,000 to 5,000 Greek Orthodox. These three groups
are recognized by the Government as having special legal
minority status under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. There also
are approximately 10,000 Baha'is, as well as an estimated
15,000 Syrian Orthodox (Syriac) Christians, 3,000
Protestants, and small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian,
Chaldean, Nestorian, Georgian, Roman Catholic, and Maronite
Christians. The number of Syriac Christians in the southeast
once was high; however, under pressure from State authorities
and later under the impact of the war against the PKK
insurrection many Syriacs have migrated to Istanbul, Europe,
or North America.

8. There are no known estimates of the number and religious
affiliation of foreign missionaries in the country.

Legal/Policy Framework

9. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the
Government generally respects this right in practice;
however, the Government imposes some restrictions on
non-Muslim religious groups and on Muslim religious
expression in government offices and state-run institutions,
including universities, usually for the stated reason of
combating religious fundamentalism. The Constitution
establishes the country as a secular state and provides for
freedom of belief, freedom of worship, and the private
dissemination of religious ideas. However, these rights are
restricted particularly by other constitutional provisions
regarding the integrity and existence of the secular State.
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on religious
10. The Government oversees Muslim religious facilities and
education through its Directorate of Religious Affairs
(Diyanet). It regulates the operation of the country's
75,000 mosques, and employs local and provincial imams, who
are civil servants. Some groups claim that the Diyanet
reflects mainstream Sunni Islamic beliefs to the exclusion of
other beliefs; however, the Government asserts that the
Diyanet treats equally all those who request services.

11. A separate government agency, the General Directorate for
Foundations (Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu), regulates some
activities of non-Muslim religious groups and their
affiliated churches, monasteries, religious schools, and
related property. There are 160 "minority foundations"
recognized by the Vakiflar, including Greek Orthodox
(approximately 70 sites), Armenian Orthodox (approximately
50), and Jewish (20), as well as Syrian Christian, Chaldean,
Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian, and Maroni foundations. The
Vakiflar also regulates Muslim charitable religious
foundations, including schools and hospitals.

12. In October 2002 the Government implemented a reform
measure allowing, in principle, some non-Muslim foundations
to acquire property for the first time since 1936. A number
of foundations criticized the application process as lengthy
and burdensome, and by the end of the period covered in this
report the Vakiflar had rejected many such applications.

13. Some religious groups have lost property to the State in
the past, or continue to fight against such losses. If a
non-Muslim community does not use its property due to a
decline in the size of its congregation to under 10
individuals, the Vakiflar may assume direct administration
and ownership. If such groups can demonstrate a renewed
community need, they may apply to recover their properties.

14. Government authorities do not interfere on matters of
doctrine pertaining to non-Muslim religions, nor do they
restrict the publication or use of religious literature among
members of the religion.

15. There are legal restrictions against insulting any
religion recognized by the State, interfering with that
religion's services, or debasing its property. However, some
Christian churches have been defaced, with communities unable
to repair them, including in the Tur Abdin area of the
southeast where many ancient Syriac churches are found.

16. Alevis freely practice their beliefs and build "Cem
houses" (places of gathering). Many Alevis allege
discrimination in the State's failure to include any of their
doctrines or beliefs in religious instruction classes (which
reflect Sunni Muslim doctrines) in public schools, and charge
a bias in the Diyanet. No funds are allocated specifically
from the Diyanet budget for Alevi activities or religious
leadership. However, some Sunni Islamic political activists
charge that the secular state favors and is under the
influence of the Alevis.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

17. The Government imposes some restrictions on religious
groups and on religious expression in government offices and
state-run institutions, including universities.

18. The Government, in particular the military, judiciary,
and other members of the secular elite, continued to wage
campaigns against proponents of Islamic fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism, especially the advocacy of Shari'a law, is
viewed by these groups as a threat to the democratic secular
republic. The National Security Council (NSC)--a powerful
military/civilian body established by the 1982 Constitution
to advise senior leadership on national security
matters--categorizes religious fundamentalism as a threat to
public safety. Despite the NSC's activism on this issue,
legislative measures have been taken in only 5 of an 18-point
"anti-fundamentalist" plan introduced in 1997.

19. According to the human rights NGO Mazlum-Der, some
government ministries dismissed, or barred from promotion,
civil servants suspected of anti-state (including Islamist)
activities, one of the 1997 points. According to Mazlum-Der,
other contacts, and media accounts, the military regularly
dismisses observant Muslims from the service. Allegedly such
dismissals are based on behavior that the military believes
identifies these individuals as Islamic fundamentalists, and
their fear is that such individuals have less loyalty to a
secular, democratic state.

20. In November 2002 an appeals court overturned a February
2002 ruling by an administrative court to close the Union of
Alevi-Bektasi Organizations (ABKB) on the grounds that it
violated the Associations Law, which prohibits the
establishment of associations "in the name of any religion,
race, social class, religion, or sect." The case was
returned to the lower court, which ruled against closure in
February 2003. An appeals court in May 2003 upheld the lower
court ruling.

21. Tarikats (religious orders and communities) and other
mystical Sunni Islamic, quasi-religious, and social orders
have been banned officially since the 1920s and the Turkish
military ranks tarikats among the most pernicious threats to
Kemalist secularism, but tarikats remain active and
widespread. The NSC has called for stricter enforcement of
the ban as part of its campaign against the perceived threat
of Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, some prominent
political and social leaders continue to be associated with
tarikats or other Islamic communities.

22. Under the law, religious services may take place only in
designated places of worship. Under municipal codes, only
the State can designate a place of worship, and if a religion
has no legal standing in the country it may not be eligible
for a designated site. Non-Muslim religious services,
especially for religious groups that do not own property
recognized by the Vakiflar, often take place on diplomatic
property or in private apartments. Police occasionally bar
Christians from holding services in private apartments.

23. An August 2001 circular signed by the Ministry of
Interior encouraged some governors to use existing laws
(such as those which regulate meetings, religious building
zoning, and education) to regulate gatherings of
"Protestants, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses, Believers in
Christ, etc ..." within their provinces, while "bearing in
mind" those provisions of the law that provide for freedom of
religion. According to one Protestant group, as well as
other observers and media reports, local authorities asked
more than a dozen churches in Istanbul and elsewhere to
close, or subjected them to increased police harassment,
since the publication of the circular. Several Protestant
groups that have engaged in activities ranging from worship,
to bible study, to religious education have had charges filed
against them for zoning violations. There is no known method
for acquiring zoning to engage in any new religious-building
construction. Mosques, churches, and synagogues alike have
no "zoned" status, and no group is known to have received
zoning permission for the construction of a "new" church.

24. Following the Constitutional Court's June 2001 closure of
the Islamist Fazilet (Virtue) party for being a center of
activities "contrary to the principle of the secular
republic," two successor parties were formed--the Islamist
Saadet (Contentment) Party and the AK (Justice and
Development) Party, conscious of the strength of Muslim
tradition in Anatolia but calling itself a "conservative
democratic" party. AK Party Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
now Prime Minister, faced immediate legal challenges to his
role as founding member of the party, based on his 1999
conviction for the crime of "inciting religious hatred." In
January 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that Erdogan was
ineligible to run for Parliament due to this conviction and
therefore could not be a founding member of the party, and
gave AK an October 2002 deadline to remove Erdogan as party
chairman. When AK failed to comply, prosecutors opened a
case demanding the closure of AK. The case continued at the
end of the period covered in this report, though under recent
legal reforms a conviction would not lead to closure.
Erdogan also faces possible legal charges based on speeches
he made in the early 1990s that allegedly contained
anti-secularist statements, and for alleged financial
misconduct. Erdogan was elected to Parliament in
by-elections held after the term of his political ban

25. Necmettin Erbakan, an Islamist former Prime Minister, was
also banned from the November electionsowing to a past
conviction for illegal speech. Erbakan assumed the Saadet
chairmanship in May 2003 after his five-year political ban

26. In July 2001, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)
upheld the Government's 1998 decision to close Fazilet's
predecessor party, Refah. The court ruled that the closure
"could reasonably be considered to meet a pressing social
need for the protection of a democratic society" because,
according to the ECHR's analysis, Refah had espoused the
possibility of instituting Shari'a law in Turkey.

27. In March 2003, an Ankara State Security Court ruled to
postpone a verdict in the trial in absentia of controversial
Islamic philosopher Fetullah Gulen, now residing in the
United States. Gulen, indicted in 2000, faced five to 10
years imprisonment under the Anti-Terror Law on charges of
"attempting to change the characteristics of the Republic" by
trying to establish a theocratic Islamic state. The
prosecutor also charged that Gulen attempted to "infiltrate"
the military. Under the postponement ruling, the case
against Gulen will be formally closed if he does not commit
another felony crime within five years.

28. The authorities monitor the activities of Eastern
Orthodox churches but do not interfere with their activities.
The Government does not recognize the ecumenical nature of
the Greek Orthodox patriarch, acknowledging him only as head
of the Turkish Greek Orthodox community. The Government does
not interfere with his travels or other ecumenical
activities, however. The Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul
continues to seek to reopen the Halki seminary on the island
of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. The seminary has been
closed since 1971, when the State nationalized all private
institutions of higher learning. Under existing
restrictions, religious communities largely remain unable to
train new clergy in the country for eventual leadership.
Coreligionists from outside the country have been permitted
to assume leadership positions in some cases, but all
community leaders (Patriarchs and Chief Rabbis) must be
Turkish citizens.

29. There is no law that explicitly prohibits proselytizing
or religious conversions; however, many prosecutors and
police regard proselytizing and religious activism with
suspicion, especially when such activities are deemed to have
political overtones. Police occasionally bar Christians from
proselytizing by handing out literature. Police occasionally
arrest proselytizers for disturbing the peace, "insulting
Islam," conducting unauthorized educational courses, or
distributing literature that has criminal or separatist
elements. Courts usually dismiss such charges. If the
proselytizers are foreigners, they may be deported, but
generally they are able to reenter the country. Police
officers may report students who meet with Christian
missionaries to their families or to university authorities.

30. The Government continued to enforce a long-term ban on
the wearing of religious head coverings at universities or by
civil servants in public buildings. Women who wear head
coverings, and both men and women who actively show support
for those who defy the ban, have been disciplined or lost
their jobs in the public sector as nurses and teachers.
Students who wear head coverings are not permitted to
register for classes. In March 2002, deputies from Islamist
parties in Parliament pressed for a motion of censure against
the Minister of Education for allegedly "creating unrest at
the ministry" and "escalating tensions" by enforcing strictly
the headscarf ban, including at Imam-Hatip (religious) high
schools. In June 2002, a special parliamentary committee
concluded that the Minister should not face charges. Many
secular Turkish women accuse Islamists of using the headscarf
as a political tool, and say they fear that efforts to remove
the headscarf ban will lead to pressure against women who
choose not to wear head covering.

31. In April 2003, the President, the chief of the Turkish
General Staff, opposition party members, and high-ranking
bureaucrats boycotted a reception in honor of Turkey,s
national children,s holiday because Parliament Speaker
Bulent Arinc,s wife, who wears a headscarf, was listed on
the invitation as co-host. The incident marked the first
time the event had been boycotted in 83 years. Arinc also
drew sharp criticism from secular circles in November 2002
for bringing his wife with him to the airport to see off
President Sezer on a foreign trip.

32. Some members of non-Muslim religious groups claim that
they have limited career prospects in government or military
service, particularly as military officers, judges or
prosecutors. A 1997 law made eight years of secular
education compulsory. Students may pursue study at Islamic
Imam-Hatip high schools upon completion of eight years in
the secular public schools. Imam-Hatip schools are
classified as vocational, and therefore graduates face some
barriers to university admission such as an automatic
reduction in their entrance exam grades. Only the Diyanet is
authorized to provide religious training, usually through the
public schools, although some clandestine private religious
classes may exist. Students who complete five years of
primary school may enroll in Diyanet Koran classes on
weekends and during summer vacation. Many Koran courses
function unofficially.

33. State-sponsored Islamic religious and moral instruction
in public eight-year primary schools is compulsory. Upon
written verification of their non-Muslim background,
minorities "recognized" by the Government under the 1923
Lausanne Treaty (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and
Jewish) are exempted by law from Muslim religious
instruction. These students may attend courses with parental
consent. Other non-Muslim minorities, such as Catholics,
Protestants, and Syriac Christians, are not exempted legally;
however, in practice they may obtain exemptions. The courts
have ruled that all universities are public institutions and,
as such, have an obligation to protect the country's basic
principles, such as secularism. Small, peaceful protests
against this policy occurred at various times during the
period covered by this report, and some journalists and
supporters face minor charges relating to their roles in the

34. Some religious groups have lost property to the State in
the past, or continue to fight against such losses. An
Armenian church in Kirikhan, Hatay province, faced possible
expropriation when its community decreased to fewer than 10
persons. The Armenian Patriarchate won a court case allowing
it to retain control of the property, but prosecutors
appealed. In April 2003 an appeals court upheld the original
ruling and ordered the property to be turned over to an
Armenian church board.

35. In April 2002 the Baha'i community lost a legal appeal
against government expropriation of a sacred site in Edirne.
The Ministry of Culture had granted cultural heritage status
to the site in 1993, but in January 2000 the Ministry of
Education notified the Baha'i community that it had
expropriated the adjacent primary school property for future
use. At the end of the period covered in this report, the
Baha,i were awaiting the results of their final appeal to
the Council of State.

36. Restoration or construction may be carried out in
buildings and monuments considered "ancient" only with
authorization of the regional board on the protection of
cultural and national wealth. Bureaucratic procedures and
considerations relating to historic preservation in the past
have impeded repairs to religious facilities, especially in
the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian properties. However,
according to religious leaders, the Government has become
more supportive of these communities' requests. Groups are
prohibited from using funds from their properties in one part
of the country from supporting their existing population in
another part of the country.

37. Although religious affiliation is listed on national
identity cards, there is no official discrimination based
upon religious persuasion. Some religious groups, such as
the Baha'i, allege that they are not permitted to state their
religion on their cards because no category exists; they have
made their concerns known to the Government. Conversion to
another religion entails amending one's identification card;
there are reports that those who convert from Islam to
another religion have been subject to harassment by local
officials when they seek amendment of their cards.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

38. U.S. citizen and Sufi Muslim preacher Aydogan Fuat was
released following his May 2002 acquittal on charges of
illegally using religious dress. Prosecutors appealed
Fuat,s acquittal, but the appeals court did not respond.
Fuat was also acquitted on separate charges of causing
religious enmity through speech.

39. Christian groups have encountered difficulty in
organizing (especially in university settings) in Gaziantep,
Eskisehir, and other cities in which they have not sought
recognition as a foundation; the authorities briefly detained
some Turkish and foreign Christians in these areas.

40. In March 2003 an Istanbul court acquitted seven
Christians who were charged with holding illegal church and
Bible study meetings in an apartment.

41. In June 2003, an Istanbul court acquitted 13 Ahmadi
Muslims, members of a small religious community , who had
been arrested in April 2002 and charged under Article 7 of
the Anti-Terror Law (involvement with an organization "with
terrorist aims"). Three of the defendants had been held
until their August 2002 hearing, after which they were
released on bail. The case was under appeal at the end of
the period covered in this report.
There were no other reports of religious detainees or
Forced Religious Conversion

42. There were no reports of forced religious conversion,
including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or
illegally removed from the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments
in Respect for Religious Freedom

43. In October 2002 the Government implemented a reform
measure allowing, in principle, some non-Muslim foundations
to acquire property for the first time since 1936. A number
of foundations criticized the application process as lengthy
and burdensome, and by the end of the period covered in this
report the Vakiflar had rejected many such applications.

44. In June 2003, Parliament approved an amendment to the Act
on Construction replacing the word "mosques" with "houses of
worship," removing a legal obstacle to the building of
non-Muslim religious facilities.

45. In May 2002, the Diyanet adopted a series of decisions
after holding a 4-day conference on religious issues with
attendees from the Diyanet's Supreme Council on Religious
Issues and experts from theology schools. The Diyanet
formally decided to: allow women to participate in the
congregation for daily prayers on Fridays, during religious
holidays, and funeral prayers; allow original Arabic prayers
to be recited in native tongues; rule that men may not use
the Koran as a premise for domestic violence; underline the
fact that civil marriages (rather than religious marriages)
are required by law; and state that social and legal advances
for women are not against the spirit of the Koran. Some
women immediately began to participate in congregations with

46. In the fall of 2001, the Diyanet issued an immediate
statement condemning terrorism as a crime against humanity.
The Diyanet also issued a statement, read during Friday
prayers at all mosques, stressing that there is no Islamic
justification for any form of terrorism. This message was
reinforced during the Ramazan period at state-sponsored
Iftaar dinners attended by members of non-Muslim religious
groups, and repeated in a statement at the Diyanet-sponsored
"Fifth Eurasia Islamic Council."


47. Government policy and the generally calm relationship
among religions in society contributed to religious freedom;
however, some Muslims, Christians, and Baha'is face societal
suspicion and mistrust. Jews and most Christian
denominations freely practice their religions and report
little discrimination in daily life. However, citizens who
convert from Islam may experience some form of social
harassment or pressure from family and neighbors.
Proselytizing is socially unacceptable. A variety of
newspapers and television shows have published anti-Christian
messages, including leftist-nationalist"Aydinlik", whichin
May 2002 published a purported list of 40 churches in the
city of Izmir that were "bribing" converts.

48. Many non-Muslim religious group members, along with many
in the secular political majority of Muslims, fear the
possibility of Islamic extremism and the involvement of even
moderate Islam in politics. Several Islamist newspapers
regularly publish anti-Semitic material.

49. Iftar dinners (evening events tied to the daily breaking
of the Ramadan fast) often involve invitations to non-Muslim
religious and secular leaders. Iftars hosted by diplomats,
as well as business and religious leaders, typically include
invitations to non-Muslims as a sign of openness and


50. The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues
with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and
policy of promoting human rights. The Ambassador and other
Mission officials, including staff of the U.S. Consulate
General in Istanbul and the U.S. Consulate in Adana, enjoy
close relations with Muslim majority and other religious
groups. The U.S. Embassy continues to urge the Government to
re-open the Halki seminary on Heybeli Island. In December
2001, the Secretary of State met with high-ranking government
officials to discuss several issues, including freedom of
religion. In April and May 2002, visiting representatives
from the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor met with members of various religious
groups to hear their concerns. In October 2002 the Archons
of the Order of St. Andrew, an American group which actively
supports the Ecumenical Patriarchate, made its first trip to
Ankara and, with the support of the Embassy, met with the
Diyanet and other senior officials to urge the reopening of
Halki. The Ambassador and other Embassy officers also remain
in close contact with local NGOs that monitor freedom of

51. Embassy and Consulate staff members monitor and report on
incidents of detention of foreigners found proselytizing, and
have attended the trials of Americans and others facing
charges relating to free expression and the free practice of


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