The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its newly released Turkey update, accuses Ankara of “fueling a political environment hostile to religious minorities.
The report says new forms of intimidation towards Turkey’s Armenian community and others have surfaced, fueled in part by the government’s continued tolerance of hate speech and acts of violence directed at the country’s religious minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
“Armenian religious heritage sites remain under threat,” according to the report and note that, in early 2021, the Surp Toros Armenian church in Kütahya was demolished after coming into the possession of an unknown individual—despite holding protected status.
“In August bulldozers destroyed an Armenian cemetery in Van Province, the same month an Armenian church and cultural center in Malatya hosted its first mass following a restoration,” the report reads.
The report says the Turkish government continues to interfere in the internal affairs of religious minorities and withhold critical recognition of legal personality.
“Since 2013, the Turkish government has blocked religious minority foundations from electing new board members, a move that has slowly reduced their numbers through death and illness, increasing the difficulties of day-to-day functioning and dividing communities like the Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul,” the report reads.
The report says the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2020 conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has fueled anti-Armenian conspiracies and intimidating anti-Armenian protests.
The report also notes the rise of anti-Semitism in Turkey and restrictions placed on the Alevi community.
(The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the U.S. President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.)