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Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions.  According to media, some members of the Uyghur Muslim community expressed fear that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was attempting to pressure the government to change its policy of not deporting members of the Uyghur diaspora community to the PRC.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  In July, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism related offenses and for preaching in Kurdish, and then released.  The lawyer representing the imams told media he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated” because they could not preach in their chosen language.  In March, government media regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined independent television broadcasters for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent Turkish media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In March, the Constitutional Court upheld a regional court decision sentencing a journalist to seven months in prison for tweets “insulting religious values.”  Government officials continued to use antisemitic rhetoric in speeches.  In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Israelis were “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old.  They are only satisfied with sucking their blood.”  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  Media and nongovernmental organizations reported continued entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy domestically, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.  In January, an Armenian Christian parliamentarian condemned the demolition of a 17th-century Armenian church in Kutahya that had been protected under local law.  Construction of a new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul continued, according to the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Office.

According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued.  In February, media reported that unidentified individuals vandalized the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Akhisar District of Izmir.  According to media, in March, police opened an investigation of a fire set at the gate of the historical Kasturya Synagogue, located in Ayvansaray District in Istanbul.  Media reported that three men videotaped themselves dancing atop the gates of Surp Tavakor Armenian Church, causing damage to the gate’s crucifix, in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District on July 11.  Government officials condemned the men’s actions; authorities subsequently detained and then released them.  In December, the three suspects were indicted and charged with “insulting religious values.”  Judicial proceedings continued through year’s end.  In September, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized Kurdish Alevi homes with graffiti that read, “Kurdish Alevi get out,” in the province of Mersin.  Antisemitic discourse and hate speech continued in social media and the print press; in August, some social media personalities and journalists linked the devastating wildfires spreading through the country to a foreign rabbi living in the country.  On June 18, media reported that representatives of the Jewish community filed a criminal complaint against the head of a health and social services business after he tweeted that those protesting at Bogazici University “are all dishonest… You are all a traitor.  You are all a Jew.”

On October 25, the U.S. President met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  According to the White House press release, they discussed the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  The Secretary of State also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, tweeting afterwards, “We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region.”  The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to emphasize to government officials the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  On May 18, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement condemning President Erdogan’s antisemitic rhetoric.  U.S. officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution.  Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call on the government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and to permit the training of clergy members from all communities in the country.  In May, during a visit to Istanbul, the Deputy Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  The Deputy Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to hold meetings with a wide range of Islamic religious leaders and religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Baha’i, and Chaldean Catholic communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future