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WikiLeaks: 2003-07-18: 03ANKARA4525: Turkey: Draft 2003 IRF

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM CT

Viewing cable 03ANKARA4525, TURKEY: DRAFT 2003 IRF

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
03ANKARA4525 2003-07-18 12:34 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Ankara
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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