Turkey has been
home to all three great revealed religions—Judaism,
Christianity and Islam—for
99% of Turkey's people today are Muslim,
history is principally
that of an Islamic people, their empires,
architecture, arts and literature.
also the historic seat of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople and
still has a number of active Orthodox
The Roman Catholic church has
some churches and activities, as do
small groups of Protestants.
The Assyrian Orthodox church,
headed by a patriarch resident in Damascus,
Syria, has some active churches and
monasteries in southeastern
Turkey near Mardin.
community has roots
in the distant past when Anatolia was
the Roman province
of Asia (Minor). St Paul was
born into a Jewish family in the
Roman city of Tarsus on
Turkey's eastern Mediterranean
coast. But most Turkish Jews
trace their antecedents to the influx
of Sephardim from Spain
and Portugal in the late 15th century.
Driven out of their homelands by
the Spanish Inquisition,
they found refuge and prosperity
in the Ottoman
Because it is in the nature of most
every religion to believe that its
doctrine—and only its
and all others are either flawed or
downright false, there
have been times when believers of different
religions did not get along.
general, Turkey's history of
religious tolerance is exemplary. (The Mevlevi ("whirling" dervishes)
are a good example.)
Under the Ottoman
Empire, each religious community
was autonomous in
domestic affairs and could apply
its own religious law in its own
courts. The head of each community—the Chief
Rabbi (Hahambaşı), Orthodox
responsible to the sultan for the
good behavior of his community.
With the coming of ethnic-religious
nationalism in the 19th
century, this multi-confessional
Ottoman modus vivendi was
destroyed. The Ottoman system broke
down to be replaced by more or less
nation states such as Armenia,
Bulgaria, Greece and Israel.
By the end of the 20th century, many
non-Muslim Turkish citizens had emigrated
to these or other countries, leaving
only small minorities where
there once had been large, thriving
Because the Turkish Republic is a
secular state, all
religious activity is supervised by
the government. Citizens are free
to worship as they wish, but proselytization
is not permitted.
The heads of the major religious
Mufti, the Chief
Rabbi and the Ecumenical
Patriarch—are officially government
endowments (vakıf, wakf)
are administered by the government,
as is all religious real property.
religious garb is permitted
in places of worship but not common
in public areas.
—by Tom Brosnahan