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Turkey: Erdogan opens a church in Istanbul for the first time in 100 years of the republic

In a first for the secular and predominantly Muslim republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened a Syrian church in Istanbul on Sunday, welcoming communities living together.

“Jews, Christians, we are happy that all communities in our country live together,” the Turkish president told a crowd of religious dignitaries and officials as violence raged in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“There are many problems in the world today. Turkey is a country where several communities have lived in peace for centuries,” he added. “We have always defended the oppressed from the oppressor, it is our duty,” Erdogan continued, highlighting that “twenty churches” have been renovated across the country since he came to power twenty years ago.

Sait Susin, President of the Assyrian Foundation of Istanbul, expressed his enthusiasm ahead of the opening to the faithful: “This is the first church built since the founding of the Turkish Republic to open its doors. We are very happy,” he admitted.

Church funded by members of its community

The Orthodox Church of St. Ephrem is located on the European side of the Bosphorus, in the peripheral region of Yeşilköy, where the majority of Turkish Syrian Christians live, with the rest settled in the southeast, near the Syrian border. is funded by this community of 17,000 members.

The large white building, located in the middle of a green quarter, can accommodate 750 people. The head of state, who had already laid the first stone during a ceremony in August 2019, instructed the Istanbul municipality to find vacant land.

A year later, in July 2020, Erdogan, a devout and conservative Muslim, converted Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque and then demanded the conversion of the Saint-Sauveur-in-Chora church, also built by the Byzantines in the 5th century, which has remained closed since then for the public.

Over the past century, existing churches, as the head of state noted, have been restored, and other small buildings have been given the opportunity to accommodate their believers in complete privacy. But this happened “without official permission,” Susin told the state-run Anadolu Agency. “This is the first time that a church has been officially built. It is a source of great pride,” he added, saying he expected many visitors from across the country and even abroad.

Members of Turkey’s Christian minorities, who make up an estimated 0.2% of the population (the country, while secular, does not keep statistics on religions), regularly complain that they are treated with second class citizens. .

Source: Le Parisien

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