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Turkey’s Christians are facing increasing persecution. We cannot forget them

Worshippers light candles as they attend Christmas Mass at Saint Antuan Church, Istanbul, Turkey (Getty Images)

So, what exactly is happening in Turkey, traditionally a very important country for America and the West? Turkey is, after all, a member of NATO, it occupies a strategic position between Europe and the Middle East, it has the potential to be act as a bridge of understanding between us and the Islamic world, and it is often lauded as a secular and democratic Muslim-majority state. For years, America has courted Turkey, and for years Turkey has been a candidate for membership of the European Union.

All that is looking a bit jaded now. For a start, Turkey’s candidature for the European Union has made no progress, despite some not-too-subtle American pushing. Moreover, thanks to President Erdogan, Turkey looks less and less democratic by the day, and correspondingly less secular. Rather than being a bridge country, Turkey now seems to be flirting with a neo-Ottoman future. Needless to say, Turkish foreign policy is a matter for the Turks, not us and certainly not this magazine.

However, the position of Christians in Turkey is of great interest to us, just as Muslims care about the welfare of their brethren in Christian-majority lands. A good summary of what Turkish Christians are facing is provided by this article here, which repays careful reading. Turkish Christians suffer endless petty and not so petty discrimination at the hands of the state, and Christians in Turkey are also subject to random acts of violence for the simple offence of being Christian.

At present, the world’s attention is on the case of a Christian pastor who has been held in a Turkish jail for nearly two years, and is now under house arrest, on the charge of espionage. Andrew Brunson’s case has now been taken up by President Trump, who is making a Don Pacifico moment out of this matter. This will be very popular in America, and it will add to the perception that Turkey is not the sort of place where the rule of law counts for much. Conversely, President Erdogan’s imprisonment of the pastor may play well to his core constituency in the Anatolian heartland. Meanwhile, the whole case, and the economic war it has unleashed, will make Turkey’s tiny Christian minority very nervous. They may well get the blame.

So, what can be done? It seems very little. President Trump is most unlikely to back down, and many will question why he should, though, if truth be told, a de-escalation of the rhetoric would give the Pastor a better chance of being set free. As predicted, more of Turkey’s Christians will choose to emigrate. As for those of us who want good relations with Turkey – and that includes the Vatican, which has courted Turkey for years (four of the last five Popes have visited Turkey) – we may well feel close to despair.

Turkey, as visitors will know, has a rich cultural heritage, but these cultural remains are an indictment of its present. The empty churches speak volumes about the Christians who used to live there but no longer do so. What is sad is that the Turkish government does not seem to think that this a problem. There are very few Christians left in Turkey; soon there may be none at all. What does that tell you about the Turkish nation?