Turks are expected to be Muslim – a conviction that’s fostered by the government in a ploy to consolidate power. Most are proudly Muslim and hold the faith as a core part of their nationalist identity, even if they aren’t devout.
There are approximately 7,000 Turkish national evangelical Christians, most of whom are converts from Islam. Believers are heavily persecuted by their families, neighbours and employers.
In addition to this, it is estimated that around 30,000 Christian refugees are registered with the UNHCR office in Ankara, Turkey. Most have fled violence, unrest and persecution in the Middle East. Registration allows the refugees to receive a very basic level of medical treatment free in government-run hospitals; however for serious cases, refugees need to turn to private hospitals which costs more than they can afford.
Refugees have no rights related to work and most find jobs that pay a third of the going rate. Employers often take advantage of Christian refugees in particular, including non-payment for work done. With the recent decline in the value of the Turkish lira, it has become increasingly difficult for refugees to find work. Christian refugees are struggling, they are concerned about their future and are wondering what they should do.
Mahrous is an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. When he was 19 years old – during the Iran-Iraq war, he was imprisoned in Iran for 12 years. He says, “Sunni prisoners were treated badly, but Christians were treated even worse. They told me I was unclean and tried to force me to convert to Shia Islam. During the week, it was very hot, they took me outside and tortured me. They told me, ‘if you want to be free you have to change your religion.’ Even if I die for it, I will never change my religion. I praise God for my faith. It’s hard to believe I was freed. There was no explanation, but one day I was taken to the Iraqi border and dumped there.
“Eventually I found work in a shop, but life was hard. I was told, ‘You are Christian, and this is a Muslim country. You shouldn’t live in this country.’ My Christian brother was captured and held hostage and we had to sell our home to buy his freedom. When ISIS came to Mosul, which is a Christian area, we were forced to leave and come to Turkey.
“It’s hard to find work as a refugee and wages are very low, thank God we just make ends meet.”
Many believers, particularly Christian leaders, came to Turkey because they were persecuted for their Christian faith in Iran. Some have been in Turkey for more than seven years and were accepted into the US resettlement program. However, in 2017 the US administration stopped all those in process.
Voice of the Martyrs is working with our partner in Turkey to provide resources and God’s word to Christians who have sought refuge in Turkey.
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