WikiLeaks: 2003-07-18: 03ANKARA4525: Turkey: Draft 2003 IRF
Viewing cable 03ANKARA4525, TURKEY: DRAFT 2003 IRF
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 ANKARA 004525 SIPDIS SENSITIVE DEPARTMENT FOR DRL AND EUR/SE E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM KIRF TU SUBJECT: TURKEY: DRAFT 2003 IRF REF: SECSTATE 194330 ¶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. ------------------------------- SECTION 1: RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY ------------------------------- ¶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. ----------------------------------------- SECTION II. STATUS OF RELIGIOIUS FREEDOM: 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 grounds. ¶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 expired. ¶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 expired. ¶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 protests. ¶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 prisoners. --------------------------- 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 men. ¶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." ------------------------------- SECTION III. SOCIETAL ATTITUDES ------------------------------- ¶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 hospitality. ---------------------------------- SECTION IV. U.S. GOVERNMENT POLICY ---------------------------------- ¶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 religion. ¶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 religion. PEARSON