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Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship with some restrictions. The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” The Greek Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Muslim minority of Thrace have long been recognized as official religious legal entities by law. Other established Christian religious groups automatically acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law. The same law also provided for other groups to seek recognition through the court system. Groups without legal recognition as religious entities are able to function as civil nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. The government continued granting some privileges to the Greek Orthodox Church it did not grant to other religious groups and maintained some restrictions affecting members of non-Greek Orthodox religious groups. Some members of the Thrace Muslim community complained about the government appointment of muftis to serve the community. The government enacted legislation allowing individuals to predetermine disposition of their remains upon death and addressing longstanding penal issues of conscientious objectors. In July participants in a demonstration organized by the Golden Dawn Party (GD) threw rocks and shouted slogans at a member of the Muslim minority commemorating the death of a Muslim former member of parliament. The government granted permits for 11 houses of prayer including, for the first time, a Muslim prayer house outside of Thrace and greater Athens. The criminal trial of 69 GD party members and supporters resumed on charges that included murder, membership a criminal organization, conspiracy, weapons possession, and racist violence related to a string of attacks against migrants and others. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of police harassment while preaching or distributing religious materials. Political leaders made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments. The government funded Holocaust education programs and commemorated Greek Holocaust victims.

There were incidents of anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic discrimination and hate speech, including some directed at immigrants. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported physical violence, verbal attacks, harassment, and intimidation by individuals, including Greek Orthodox priests, while preaching or distributing information material in Athens and in other cities. Individuals vandalized Greek Orthodox churches, a Jewish synagogue and memorial, an army camp intended to house Muslim refugees, and other religious property. Police launched investigations but made no arrests. Some Muslim asylum seekers reported that two aid workers working for an NGO at a reception and registration center in Lesvos attempted to convert them to Christianity through distribution of translated citations from the Gospels in Arabic. The aid workers were removed from their positions.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. officials, and embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religions, including the Minister for Education and the Secretary General for Religious Affairs. Embassy officials also met with the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Yezidi, Bahai, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities to promote religious tolerance, encourage interfaith dialogue, and express concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric. The embassy supported two interfaith and outreach projects to bring together members of different religious groups to promote religious tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.8 million (July 2016 estimate), of whom 98 percent are Greek Orthodox, 1.3 percent Muslim, and 0.7 percent other religions. Kappa Research Firm, a local private research firm, estimated that in 2015, 81.4 percent of the population self-identified as Greek Orthodox, 2.9 percent as belonging to other religious groups, and 14.7 percent as atheist.

Muslims constitute a number of distinct communities including, according to the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, approximately 100,000-120,000 individuals in Thrace descending from the Muslim minority officially recognized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. According to local religious leaders and migrant activists, approximately 150,000 Muslim immigrants and foreign workers from Southeastern Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa reside mostly in the Attica region, in and around Athens, and are clustered together based on their countries of origin. Other religious groups that together are estimated to constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, atheists and agnostics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Bahais, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKON).

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, between January 1 and September 25, approximately 166,000 migrants and asylum seekers from mainly Muslim majority countries arrived in the country, many transiting to other nations in Europe. As of November 21, the government estimated approximately 62,517 remained. The Migration Ministry, as of October 21, estimates there are 2,437 Yezidi migrants and asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law with some restrictions. The constitution prohibits proselytizing, and no rite of worship may “disturb public order or offend moral principles.” The constitution allows prosecutors to seize publications that offend Christianity or other “known religions.” The law prohibits offenses against “religious peace,” including blasphemy and religious insult, which are punishable by prison sentences of up to two years. Blasphemy cases may be brought before civil and criminal courts. Development of religious conscience among citizens is listed as one of the goals of state education according to the constitution.

The constitution stipulates ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same state supervision and the same obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. It also states individuals shall not be exempted from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official religious legal entities. The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches automatically acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law. The same law also provided for groups seeking recognition to become religious legal entities under civil law. The recognition process involves filing a request at the civil court, providing documents proving the group has open rituals and no secret doctrines, supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, and demonstrating that there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and that their practices do not pose a threat to public order. Once the civil court recognizes the group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions. With legal status, the religious group can legally transfer property and administer houses of prayer and worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations that they acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law. Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

On February 21, parliament passed a law that protects the individual’s right to predetermine his or her form of funeral service and burial location in the presence of a notary. The law ensures “the choice of burial location is an individual right,” and provides for the designation of location, method of funeral service (provided that it is “not against public order, hygiene or moral ethics”), and person responsible for the execution of the individual’s funeral preference. The law protects the individual’s wishes from objections by direct relatives not designated by the individual to carry out funeral responsibilities. It also facilitates the establishment of crematory facilities by allowing these facilities to be established both on municipally-owned plots of land and on real property donated to the municipality for that specific purpose.

A religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer is considered a “known religion” and thereby acquires protection under the law, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes. Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities. The granting of house of prayer permits is subject to approvals from local urban planning departments attesting to the compliance of a proposed house of prayer with local public health and safety regulations, and the application requires at least five signatory members of the group. Once a house of worship receives planning approvals, a religious group must submit a file including documents describing the basic principles and rituals of the religious group as well as a biography of the religious minister or leader; the file must be approved by the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs. The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, European Union nationals, or legal residents of the country and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience. A separate permit is required for each physical place of worship.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne gives the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations (awqafs). Government-appointed muftis are allowed to practice sharia and render religious judicial services in the area of family law for those members of the Muslim community in Thrace who opt to use the services of a mufti instead of civil courts. The government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, appoints three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, with the possibility of extension. Civil courts in Thrace routinely ratify the family law decisions of the muftis. The muftis also appoint imams to serve in the community’s mosques.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs. Witnesses in trials must also take oaths before testifying in court, and can also select between a religious and a secular oath in both civil and criminal cases.

Greek Orthodox religious instruction in primary and secondary schools is included in the official school curriculum. School textbooks include some basic information on other known religions but focus mainly on Greek Orthodox teachings. Students may be exempted from religious instruction upon request, but parents of students registered as Greek Orthodox in school records are required to state the students are not Greek Orthodox believers in order to receive the exemption. There are no private religious schools, although individual churches may teach optional religious classes on their premises, which students may attend on a voluntary basis. The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros.

In Thrace, the government operates secular Greek-Turkish bilingual schools and two Islamic religious schools. The law in Thrace provides for Islamic religious instructors to teach Islam to the Muslim minority in Greek-language public schools in lieu of mandatory twice weekly Greek Orthodox religious courses. Muslim students in Thrace who wish to study the Quran may also attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions. A new presidential decree requires that 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the nine-month mandatory military service. Conscientious objectors are required to serve 15 months of alternate service in state hospitals or municipal and public services. On February 1, parliament amended the law to allow conscientious objectors on religious grounds over the age of 35 to shorten their alternative service upon certain conditions. It also addressed longstanding penal issues for religious conscientious objectors prior to the 1997 law that institutionalized alternative service. New provisions allow for their acquittal on all charges and the closing of all relevant cases. For those declared insubordinate prior to this legislation, the law provides that they will be acquitted and freed from any obligation to pay administrative fines if they have already completed, or were about to complete, alternative service by December 2017.

All religious groups are subject to taxation on their property used for nonreligious purposes. Property used solely for religious purposes remains exempt from taxation and municipal fees for groups classified as “known religions.”

The law prohibits discrimination and criminalizes hate speech on the grounds of religion. Individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred on the basis of religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,269 to $21,075). Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled. The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred, or has a threatening or abusive nature towards groups of individuals. A law adopted in 2015 established the National Council against Racism and Xenophobia, an advisory body under the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights charged with preventing, combating, monitoring, and recording racism and intolerance and protecting individuals and groups targeted on several grounds, including religion. The National Commission for Human Rights, comprised of government and NGO members, serves as an independent advisory body to the government on all human rights issues.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government provided funding and other benefits to the Greek Orthodox Church and, to a lesser extent, to the Muslim community of Thrace and the Jewish communities, not available to other religious groups. Courts ruled favorably on one application by a group seeking legal recognition as religious entity; rulings for the applications of two more separate religious groups were pending at year’s end. Some members of the Thrace Muslim community objected to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing for direct election of muftis. Muslims also criticized the lack of government action to provide for Islamic cemeteries outside of Thrace. The government assigned three religious officials to provide services to Muslims in migrant facilities. The government had still not built a mosque for which parliament approved funding in 2014. The government approved permits for 11 houses of prayer, including the first Muslim prayer house outside of Thrace and greater Athens in Thiva. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled the government had improperly ruled against the son of a Jehovah’s Witness who had applied for civilian service as an alternative to military service in 2013.

According to media reports, on July 24 in Thrace, participants in a demonstration organized by GD threw rocks and shouted racially charged slogans, including “Turks, Mongols, murderers,” at approximately 800 members of the officially-recognized Muslim minority who were commemorating the 21st anniversary of the death of Muslim Member of Parliament (MP) Ahmet Sadik, the founder of the Muslim minority party of Equality, Peace and Friendship. This was reportedly the first time demonstrators had disrupted this memorial event. Police intervened by using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd. No arrests were made.

On May 25, the criminal trial of 69 far-right GD party members and supporters, including 18 of its current and former MPs, resumed after a five-month break. Charges, related to a string of attacks against migrants and others, include murder, conspiracy, weapons possession, and membership in a criminal organization. The trial continued through the end of the year.

On July 13, human rights activists, including members of the NGOs Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the Humanist Union of Greece, reported 25 criminal prosecutions and trials since 2014 involving charges based on blasphemy law. At least one of them was registered during the year in the city of Drama, against a local soccer player who reportedly offended Christian believers by “insulting the divine” with comments he made during a game. The trial of a blogger appealing his 2014 conviction for blasphemy and his sentence to prison for 10 months remained pending. Government officials from the Syriza Party and some of the opposition parties represented in parliament, such as the Democratic Alignment and the River, publicly stated that existing blasphemy legislation should be abolished.

The government continued to state that Muslims who were not part of the recognized minority created by the Treaty of Lausanne were not covered by that treaty and therefore did not have the rights related to it, such as right to bilingual education, special quotas for university entry and jobs in the public sector, the use of sharia in family matters, and optional Islamic religious classes in public schools.

Courts received and agreed to examine applications filed by four religious groups seeking recognition as religious legal entities: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, German-speaking Protestants, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and Old Calendarists in the region of Oropos and Fyli, in greater Athens. A court granted recognition to the first group; court decisions for the remainder were pending at year’s end except for German-speaking Protestants, who decided to withdraw their request.

Religious groups that did not have religious entity status and had never received house of prayer permits, including Scientologists, ISKON, and polytheistic Hellenic groups, were only able to function as registered nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by those religious groups.

The Greek Orthodox Church received direct support from the government, including payment of salaries, religious training for clergy, and funding for religious instruction in schools. It maintained an institutionalized link to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, which continued to partially fund retirement pensions of Orthodox monks and monitor vocational training for Orthodox clergy.

Members of the Thrace Muslim minority continued to press for direct election of muftis. The government responded the practice of government appointment was appropriate because the muftis had judicial powers and the government appointed all judges. Academics and activists said the ability of courts in Thrace to provide judicial oversight of muftis’ decisions was limited by the lack of translation of sharia into Greek and lack of familiarity with sharia in general. They also continued to criticize the appointment by the government, rather than election of members of the Muslim minority in Thrace entrusted with the administration of the awqafs.

Muslim leaders criticized the lack of Muslim cemeteries outside of Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials. Additionally, Muslim leaders said municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years because of shortage of space contravened Islamic religious law. The government operated at least three unofficial cemeteries for the burial of Muslim migrant and asylum seekers, in Lesvos, Schisto (in Athens), and Evros. On April 8, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church agreed, at the request of the government, to grant 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) inside an existing cemetery at Schisto for the burial of Muslims.

On January 15, the media reported that three municipalities, Athens, Thessaloniki, and Patras, initiated the process to establish crematories by searching for suitable land and seeking approval of the necessary municipal committees. The city of Patras was reported to have identified a suitable plot of land and was in the process of requesting the issuance of a presidential decree to deter appeals by precertifying the land transfer as constitutional. As of year’s end, there were no crematories in the country.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that police in Athens and in provincial towns attempted to intimidate and discourage preaching or distributing and displaying information and religious material in public, citing prohibition of proselytism by the constitution.

The Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod criticized the government for failing to issue a denunciation and not taking action after 26 individuals entered the Thessaloniki cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church and interrupted services on July 3. The government subsequently issued a statement condemning the incident.

The Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs assigned three Islamic experts to offer religious services in camps hosting Muslim refugees and migrants in the region of central and eastern Macedonia. The three experts included an imam from Xanthi, the director of one of the two Islamic religious schools in Thrace, and a scholastic expert in Islamic law and studies. On June 6, the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction issued a directive to the managers of reception facilities hosting migrants and refugees, instructing them to alter food distribution times – and the type of food served – to allow Muslims to observe the Ramadan fast.

Muslim leaders continued to criticize the absence of a mosque in Athens, the financing of which the government approved in 2014. On July 13, the Council of State overruled an appeal submitted by local residents of Votanikos, where the Athens official mosque is to be built, requesting the tendering process for the mosque be ruled unconstitutional due to environmental protection considerations. On August 4, parliament approved by a wide majority an amendment to regulate technical issues and accelerate the construction of the mosque. The amendment provided for the division of the plot from other land, the construction of new buildings, and the creation of parking spaces and other facilities. On October 10, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, and Networks signed a contract with a consortium of four companies for the building of the mosque. The construction is slated to be completed by the end of 2017. On November 3, riot police ended an occupation by a group of protestors at the Votanikos site after the mayor of Athens asked for the central government’s intervention. GD praised the occupiers.

On February 26, the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs issued a permit to establish a Muslim house of prayer in the city of Thiva. This was the first permit granted to a Muslim house of prayer operating outside of the greater Athens region, excluding Thrace. The ministry also issued 10 additional house of prayer permits. These were granted to a Buddhist group in the Chalkidiki region, a Coptic Orthodox group in Athens, a Protestant group in Athens, a Pentecostal group in Veria, and to Jehovah’s Witnesses in two separate locations in Attica, in the islands of Corfu and Cephalonia, as well as in Trikala and Drama. The ministry additionally approved the construction of five new houses of worship: four of them were granted to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thessaloniki, Karditsa, Aliveri and Maroussi in Athens and one for an Old Calendarist Orthodox church in Kryoneri, in greater Athens.

On May 10, the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs revoked, for the first time ever, a house of prayer permit of the “Church of Christian Faith.” The ministry cited a pending judicial investigation and complaints filed against the house’s religious leader for conducting marriages of convenience and weddings of minors without the consent or prior knowledge of their parents.

Some religious groups reiterated complaints from previous years that the house of prayer permit process constrained freedom of religion.

On February 7, the daily newspaper Kathimerini reported the Greek Orthodox Church was unable to sell or utilize 123 real estate property assets it owned in the Athens, Vouliagmeni, Piraeus, and Thessaloniki regions. According to the report, the authorities had previously initiated procedures to expropriate these assets without concluding the process or providing any compensation. The disposition of the assets had been pending for years while the Orthodox Church was unable to sell or use them. A portion of these properties was considered by the state to be forestry lands in need of protection; as of the end of the year, the Greek Orthodox Church was in the process of challenging the government’s stance.

The government continued to provide public space free of charge to groups of Muslims whose members requested places of worship during Ramadan and for other religious occasions. On July 7, Eleftheria news reported Muslim migrant residents prayed in a public square in Larisa. The report stated some local inhabitants expressed discontent with the use of a public square for open-air prayer. Officials from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs contacted the Larisa municipality, which verified that it had approved a request filed by local Muslims for the use of the square. The ministry advised the municipality to grant use of interior rather than open-air facilities in response to similar requests in the future.

On March 30, the media reported on a new circular by the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs restricting the presence of outside visitors in school classes for the remainder of the school year. Speeches and presentations by outside visitors to school audiences had to take place strictly after hours, and only following authorization from school principals and teachers and the written consent of parents. Some Greek Orthodox Church leaders interpreted the policy as a government effort to restrict access of priests to schools for purposes other than teaching formal religion classes.

In September the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs sent new guidelines to school principals and staff for the teaching of religion class in schools. According to the guidelines, religious education should not be based solely on the official textbook – which primarily covers Greek Orthodox doctrine – and teachers were urged to discuss and initiate projects dealing with other religions. The government stated students needed to become more familiar with other religions present in the country and the world. Greek Orthodox Church leaders objected and reacted publicly to this change, stating the government was disrespectful to the constitution and to the faith of the majority of the country’s citizens.

The government provided funding to the Muslim minority in Thrace to select and pay salaries of teachers of Islam in state schools and the salaries of the three official muftis and some imams. The government funded Catholic religious training and teachers’ salaries in state schools on the islands of Syros and Tinos, and also provided funding for awareness raising activities and trips for non-Jewish students to Holocaust remembrance events, and for Holocaust education training for teachers.

Some leaders of the recognized Muslim minority continued to criticize the absence of bilingual kindergartens in Thrace. Greek government authorities stated that Greek-language kindergartens helped students to better integrate into the larger society.

On April 19, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos signed a decree establishing a special division of Muslim Studies within the Department of Theology at the School of Theology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, beginning in the 2016-17 academic year. Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Anthimos publicly objected to the establishment in Thessaloniki rather than in Thrace, where the recognized Muslim minority resides. Anthimos argued that Islam and Christianity could not coexist in the same school and warned that clashes might result if students of the two disciplines accidentally or purposefully insulted each other.

On July 13, GHM, Minority Rights Group Greece, and the Humanist Union of Greece again stated courts did not always enforce the right of witnesses to take an alternate secular oath, noting even Supreme Court prosecutors failed to apply this legal provision.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to state the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternate service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and for those serving in the military (nine months) was discriminatory. On September 15, the ECHR ruled the country the article of the European Convention on Human Rights providing for the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in the case of a conscientious objector brought by the son of a Jehovah’s Witness who stated he was influenced by his mother’s religious beliefs in forming his own pacifist views. A government committee had rejected the objector’s application for alternative service in 2013 and the Council of State had upheld the committee’s decision. The ECHR ruled the process lacked procedural impartiality, independence, and the equal representation required by domestic law; stipulating the government award 5,000 euros ($5,269) to be paid to the conscientious objector.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) expressed concern about anti-Semitic attitudes among GD party members, including inside the parliament. On March 19, activists monitoring anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust trivialization criticized on social media Minister for Interior and Administrative Reconstruction Panayotis Kouroumplis as well as New Democracy Spokesperson Giorgos Koumoutsakos for statements they made on March 18 comparing conditions in the unofficial refugee and migrant camp of Idomeni to the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau.

In May GD MP Christos Pappas stated Israel constituted “the eternal enemy of Greece and Orthodoxy” during a hearing of parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs. KIS condemned this statement.

On September 15, Deputy Education Minister Theodosis Pelegrinis stated in a parliamentary speech, “the Jewish people appropriated the Holocaust in order to earn the sympathy of the civilized world and be justified.” The president of KIS condemned the speech. Political parties of the opposition, such as New Democracy, PASOK, and the River, also denounced the speech.

The GD official website and weekly paper continued publishing references to conspiracy theories involving international Zionism and alleged plans for the country’s “Islamization,” while opposing the construction of an official mosque in Athens and the operation of private Muslim houses of prayer. For example, on October 24 the website posted a video of GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos’ commenting “it is an insult to Greek history and civilization to build a mosque in the shadow of the Acropolis.” On October 2, the website posted an article blaming the “Jewish lobby of the United States” for “dismantling the Hellenic state.”

On May 9, KIS wrote to the Greek Tourism National Organization to protest its website’s reference to the custom of burning an effigy of Judas (practiced during the Easter season) as “folkloristic,” stating it perpetuated anti-Semitic feelings. Jewish groups stated they saw the practice as encouraging the belief that the Jews killed Jesus, long a source of anti-Semitism. KIS requested its removal and the GTNO complied. KIS noted the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church had an explicit and long-standing demand for the abolition of this custom.

On January 27, President Pavlopoulos inaugurated a memorial to the Greek Righteous Among the Nations at the main Athens synagogue, to honor non-Jews who risked their lives during World War II to save Jews. On the same day, for the first time in history according to KIS, parliament held a special plenary session to honor Greek Jews who died in the Holocaust and those who survived as well as non-Jewish Greeks who protected Jews. A Greek Jewish delegation, including Holocaust survivors, and representatives of all parliamentary parties except GD attended the session. Speaker of Parliament Nikos Voutsis announced parliament would participate in sponsoring the creation of a memorial space in Auschwitz for the Greek Jews who perished there.

Most parties represented in parliament issued statements on Holocaust Remembrance Day, paying homage to the thousands of Greek Jews who fell victim to the Nazis and condemning anti-Semitism, Nazism, and Holocaust denial. A series of commemorative events took place in many cities around the country with the presence of government officials throughout the year, such as the minister of education, regional governors, city mayors, MPs, and a former prime minister.

On February 2, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the publication of a volume entitled “The Greek Righteous Among the Nations.” The work – published in collaboration with the Foundation for the Memory of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust Yad Vashem – was the final installment in a trilogy dedicated to the history of Greek Jewish communities, their destruction in the Holocaust, and the rescue of dozens of Greek Jews by Greek Christians.

On February 2, the media reported on the availability of a new mobile application allowing users to discover Thessaloniki’s Sephardic Jewish heritage. The application was made available with the collaboration of foreign embassies and various other entities.

On March 4 and 5 in Kavala, the History and Ethnology School of the Democritus University of Thrace, in cooperation with the local Union of Philologists, organized a Holocaust education training seminar for 40 teachers.

On April 20, the speaker of parliament unveiled a monument inside the parliament building dedicated to Greek Jewish MPs who were Holocaust victims.

In June the Secretariat General for Religious Affairs funded an annual commemorative trip to Auschwitz for 84 students from 19 schools throughout the country.

In March Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis signed a declaration against anti-Semitism, joining 60 other European mayors participating in an American Jewish Committee initiative to combat anti-Semitism.

On January 22, the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs issued a circular urging regional primary and secondary school directorates and principals to dedicate two hours of their school program to Holocaust-related activities on January 27, in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day. In response, Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris called on schools to add more hours of Holocaust education into their curricula. Boutaris publicly stated the term Holocaust is wrongfully used to describe different tragedies such as mass killings of unarmed populations during the Nazi occupation and argued the misuse of the term Holocaust was aimed at lessening the importance of the Holocaust.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were incidents of anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic discrimination and hate speech, including against immigrants. There were reports of vandalism against religious property, including for the first time in recent history, Greek Orthodox churches

On February 19, the Racist Violence Recording Network, an umbrella organization established by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the National Commission for Human Rights, reported that in 22 of the 75 incidents recorded against refugees and immigrants in 2015, the victims stated their religion was among the reasons they were targeted. In 2014, the same network reported victims cited religion in 17 of 46 recorded incidents.

On March 28, unknown perpetrators attempted to detonate a homemade bomb comprised of a gas canister and a car tire approximately 150 feet from the residence of the mufti of Didimoticho in Evros. There were no reports of damages. Police launched an investigation but made no arrests by year’s end. The perpetrators’ motives were unclear.

On August 8, unknown individuals threw eight Molotov cocktails at the Petrakis Monastery in central Athens, which shelters the Holy Synod. Two parked cars inside the monastery’s yard were damaged. Police initiated an investigation but made no arrests at year’s end. The attack was condemned by government officials.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of societal discrimination when preaching or distributing informational and religious material in Athens and in other cities, including being subjected to physical violence, verbal attacks, harassment, and intimidation by laypersons and Greek Orthodox priests. In January a young Jehovah’s Witness in Galatsi, Athens was distributing religious material door-to-door when a resident exited his apartment and began punching and kicking him. On March 12, in Andros Island, two male Jehovah’s Witnesses were distributing religious literature door-to-door when they visited a local priest’s residence. The priest reportedly released his dog and attacked the two Jehovah Witnesses with a metal shovel and issued a death threat. The two men reported the attack to the local police station, but the police did not file charges or make arrests. On January 15, the media reported a Greek Orthodox priest in Konistres had placed posters on columns along a street depicting Jehovah’s Witnesses as heretics and unpatriotic. The media also reported the same priest tried to prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from distributing religious materials by standing next to them and hindering local residents from approaching them.

Before the country’s northern border was closed in February, an estimated 171,284 migrants and refugees, mostly Muslims, arrived in the country from the beginning of the year through November 20. Approximately 110,000 of them left for other nations in Europe.

Academics, activists, and journalists stated the Greek Orthodox Church exercised significant social, political, and economic influence. Members of non-Orthodox religious groups reported incidents of societal discrimination, including being told they were “heretics” or “not truly Greek.”

On January 14, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church issued a statement expressing disagreement with a government initiative to draft legislation allowing individuals to predetermine their form and location of burial, including cremation. The statement noted “it is not dignified for a person to be cremated” and “there are no particular differences between cremation and the procedures for recycling trash.” The Holy Synod urged the local authorities “to look after their overcrowded and neglected cemeteries first, before rushing to spend money on purchasing plots of land and the necessary equipment in order to establish cremation centers.”

There were instances of metropolitan bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church making anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic statements in public letters and on social media while others stated Catholicism was heresy. On March 3, media reported the Greek Orthodox bishop of Kalavryta objected publicly to the transfer of Muslim migrants and refugees to Kalavryta, stating “they do not match [Greek] ethics and customs.” He added that “… we do not like their culture! We do not accept their religion! …Let us not receive any migrants in the Peloponnese. Let’s keep ourselves and our population pureblooded!” On June 15, Bishop of Piraeus Seraphim wrote on his website “the attachment of the Orthodox Church leaders to the global system equals….surrender to the American-Zionist world power system.”

On January 8, KIS publicly reacted to the use of a drawing of the Western Wall of Jerusalem in a cartoon posted on the Facebook account of “Paratiritirio” (Observatory) to mock the government’s decision to erect a monument dedicated to left-wing activists executed during the country’s civil war.

In February the anti-Semitic organization “Unaligned Meander Nationalists” claimed responsibility for several incidents of desecration of Jewish monuments and cemeteries throughout the country which had taken place in previous years, and posted pictures on the internet of individuals performing the Nazi salute in the city of Patras in front of swastikas and slogans such as “Juden Raus” (German for “Jews out”).

In March local media reported newly discovered video footage from 2014 showing a religious figure from the Muslim minority in Xanthi, Thrace stating, “Curse Israel! For these are the ones turned into soap by the Germans. But Hitler was right when he said, now you will be angry with me but one day I will be proved right about the Jews. Now our curse goes upon them and our prayers upon our brothers.” KIS denounced the statements.

On July 4, the president of the urban transportation workers union in Thessaloniki made statements about “God [mistakenly] creating Jews” and about “Hitler, who did not finish the job.” The local bus owners association and the local workers’ union, Anatropi, publicly condemned the statements. In August a public prosecutor in Thessaloniki ordered a preliminary investigation into whether the union president committed the crime of publicly instigating racist violence.

According to a foreign newspaper, an asylum seeker held at a reception and registration center in Lesvos reported Christian aid workers tried to convert some of the Muslim refugees to Christianity. He said aid workers distributed citations of the Gospel in Arabic and conversion forms to the refugees, who considered the distribution “insensitive.” The newspaper reported the aid workers’ employer, an NGO, disapproved of the conversion efforts and removed the individuals from their positions.

Some Orthodox leaders attended religious ceremonies of other religious groups. On April 16, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Catholic Pope Francis visited migrants in Lesvos. Greek Orthodox and Catholic priests gathered at some private schools to bless the beginning of the school year.

Authorities reported acts of vandalism against Jewish sites and Greek Orthodox churches throughout the country. The media reported that on September 12, vandals defaced the exterior walls of the historic synagogue of Ioannina with swastikas. KIS condemned the attack. On September 14, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the attack, describing it as a “hideous act” and stated “this barbaric action offends the memory of Greek Jews and all our fellow citizens who were the victims of fascism.” On June 28, the media reported Athens police initiated an investigation into a June 10 vandalism incident at the Athens Holocaust Memorial in which unknown perpetrators wrote a word believed to be interpreted as “roasting.” Two incidents of vandalism on Greek Orthodox churches were recorded in June and in July in Crete. Unknown perpetrators vandalized 13 icons and the altar, also writing anti-Christian epithets. In the second incident, vandals defaced the altar and all icons in the church.

On February 23 and March 5, the media reported unknown individuals placed pigs heads on fences of army camps intended to host migrants and refugees, mostly originating from Muslim countries. The reports stated that the perpetrators aimed to discourage the settlement of Muslims in these areas.

On December 15, the German Parliament approved a 10 million euro ($10.5 million) grant for the construction of a Holocaust Museum and Educational Center in Thessaloniki. The Niarchos Foundation, an international philanthropic organization, matched this grant with an additional 10 million euros. According to Thessaloniki Mayor Boutaris and Jewish Community President David Saltiel, construction of the center will cost 20 million euros ($21.1 million) and is expected to open at the end of 2019.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting officials, and embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education Research and Religions including the Minister for Education and the Secretary General for Religious Affairs. They also met with religious leaders including the Archbishop and other representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Yezidi, Bahai, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and diversity, and to express concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric. Through these meetings, the embassy monitored the ability of religious minority groups to freely practice their religion and the extent of societal discrimination against both indigenous religious minorities and newly-arrived migrants from religious minorities.

The U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs attended the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church on June 25-26 in Kolymbari, Crete, where he met with senior Church leadership, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and discussed religious freedom issues.

Embassy and consulate representatives engaged regularly with civil society representatives and religious groups in several outreach programs. From May 7-22, the embassy held a minority outreach incentive program which included the head of NGO “Lighthouse of the World,” the director of the Program for the Education of Muslim Children in Thrace, and the president of the Xanthi Association of Pomaks. The program involved discussion of youth education on diversity and religious pluralism. Also in May, the embassy sponsored the visit to the United States of two NGO staff members for a program focusing on acceptance of religious and ethnic differences. Participants met with organizations promoting cross-cultural dialogue and fighting discrimination. On June 14 and15, the embassy supported a workshop in Athens, “Building Resilience in Humanitarian Staff,” where Greek Orthodox and Muslim first responders to migrants discussed intercultural communication regarding religious beliefs and religious lifestyles.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with members of the Jewish community and attended Holocaust memorial events to emphasize the components of religious freedom and bolster societal religious tolerance. On February 10, the Consulate General in Thessaloniki hosted the 10th annual David Tiano Lecture commemorating a Greek Jewish employee of the consulate who was killed in the Holocaust. A curator from the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki spoke about Tiano’s life and emphasized the theme of religious freedom. The consul general gave remarks on the theme of combating religious hatred and encouraging religious tolerance.


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. Religious matters are coordinated and governed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), whose mandate is to enable the practice of and promote Sunni Islam. The government ascribed responsibility for the July 15 coup attempt to self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which the government considers a terrorist organization. Following the coup attempt, the government detained over 75,000 government officials and suspended 3,600 staff from the Diyanet for allegedly being linked to Gulen and the coup attempt. Some foreign citizens, including several individuals with ties to Christian groups, faced detention, residency-permission problems, or denial of entry to the country under the state of emergency powers following the attempted coup. The government continued to prosecute individuals for “openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group.” The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those it did not recognize as covered by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. Non-Sunni Muslims did not receive the same protections as recognized non-Muslim minorities. The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect.” It did not recognize Alevi Muslim houses of worship and closed an Alevi-owned television station on allegations it spread terrorist propaganda. Courts convicted seven men of killing three Protestant church members in 2007. Religious minorities reported difficulty operating or opening houses of worship, challenging land and property disputes, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religious classes. The government restricted minority religious groups from training clergy. Five churches mounted legal challenges to the government expropriation of 6,300 land plots in Diyarbakir in March after they were damaged during security operations against the U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service. The government continued to provide security support for religious minority communities and paid for renovations and restorations of some registered religious properties.

Alevi Muslims faced protests and threats of violence. There were also threats of violence against Jews, Protestants, and Sunni Muslims. Anti-Semitic discourse continued, including a wave of anti-Semitic speech on social media following a Jewish wedding held at the newly renovated Grand Synagogue in Edirne. There were also multiple instances of anti-Alevi and anti-Semitic speech in the press and other media after the July attempted coup. Some progovernment news commentators published stories attempting to associate the coup plotters with the Jewish community and the ecumenical patriarch. Some Protestant, Catholic, and Alevi places of worship were vandalized during the year.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. officials, and officers from the embassy and consulates continued to engage with government officials and a wide range of religious community leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance, and to condemn discriminatory language against any faith. Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials continued to urge the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and raised issues of property restitution and specific cases of religious discrimination. The Secretary of State and Deputy Secretary of State, in meetings with government officials in Washington, continued to call for the reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 80.3 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which are Hanafi Sunni. Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent approximately 0.3 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevi Muslims make up 25-31 percent of the population. The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population. The media estimate there may be from 200,000 to four million people influenced by the movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which identifies itself as an Islam-inspired civic, cultural, and educational movement.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities. While exact figures are not available, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (of which an estimated 60,000 are citizens and an estimated 30,000 are illegal migrants from Armenia); 25,000 Roman Catholics (including a large number of recent immigrants from Africa and the Philippines); 17,000 Jews; 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs or Suriyanis); 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly recent immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits); 10,000 Bahais; 22,000 Yezidis (17,000 of whom are refugees who arrived in 2014); 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 7,000 members of Protestant denominations; 3,000 Chaldean Christians; and up to 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians. There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Maronite Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) estimates its membership at approximately 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship. It stipulates individuals may not be compelled to participate in religious ceremonies or disclose their religion; acts of worship may be conducted freely as long as they are not directed against the integrity of the state. The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and prohibits exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion” or “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates religious matters. According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable and promote the belief, practices, and moral principles of Islam, with a primary focus on Sunni Islam, educate the public about religious issues, and administer mosques. Operating under the prime minister’s office, with a president appointed by the prime minister, and administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties, the Diyanet has five main departments: the high councils for religious affairs, education, services, publications, and public relations.

Although registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups, unregistered religious groups may not request legal recognition for places of worship. Holding religious services at a location not recognized as a place of worship is illegal and may be punished with fines or closure of the venue. A long-standing law prohibits foundations established on the basis of the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before enactment of the law. Currently, 167 of those exempted foundations continue to exist. A religious group may apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.

The law prohibits Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats).

Associations by definition must be nonprofit and may receive financial support only in the form of donations. A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties. Associations have fewer legal rights than foundations at the local level. The process for establishing a foundation is lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association.

The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF) under the Office of the Prime Minister regulates the activities and affiliated property of all charitable foundations and assesses whether they are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational statute. There are several categories of foundations, including those religious community foundations that existed prior to the 1936 law.

A foundation of any category may be closed only by court order, except under state-of-emergency rule or martial law, during which the government may close foundations by decree. If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to find the foundation no longer operational and transfer all assets to the state.

To register as an association, a group must submit a registration application to the provincial governor’s office and may immediately begin operating while awaiting confirmation from the governor’s office that its bylaws are constitutional. In addition to its bylaws, a group must obtain and submit as part of its application permission from the Ministry of the Interior if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member; it must submit copies of residence permits of foreigners if they are founding members of the group. If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association is asked to change the bylaws to meet the legal requirements, and association officials may be fined or punished by law. Associations may be closed only by court order, except under state of emergency and martial law, during which the government may close associations by decree. New associations are bound by the civil code not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

The penal code prohibits imams, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties. Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law. There are legal restrictions against insulting a recognized religion, interfering with a religious group’s services, or defacing its property. Insulting a recognized religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison; interfering with a religious group’s services is punishable by one to three years in prison; defacing religious property is punishable by three months to one year in prison; and destroying or demolishing religious property is punishable by one to four years in prison. Since it is illegal to hold religious services in places not registered as a place of worship, in practice, these legal proscriptions apply only to registered religious groups.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public primary and secondary schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction. Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through eight and one hour per week for students in grades nine through 12. Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes. No exemptions are allowed for atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Bahais, Yezidis, or those who left the religion section on their national identity card blank. Additional Islamic religious courses may also be taken as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours in middle school and high school.

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection. Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and are subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

National identity cards contain a space for religious identification, although individuals may choose to leave the space blank. The national identity cards include only the following religious identities as options: Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other. Bahai, Alevi, and Yezidi, among other groups with known populations in the country, are not listed as options. Members of these groups may choose any of the available options, or leave the space blank.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), with one reservation regarding Article 27, which states that people belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities “shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.” The reservation asserts the right “to interpret and apply the provisions of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in accordance with the related provisions and rules of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 and its Appendixes.”

Government Practices

The government detained or suspended over 75,000 government officials, including 3,600 Diyanet staff, and some foreign citizens, for alleged links with the Gulen Movement, which the government holds responsible for the attempted coup under the state of emergency powers. The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those it did not recognize as being covered by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. It continued to consider Alevism a heterodox Muslim group and continued not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis). As part of a larger shut down of television and radio stations by government decree on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda, the government closed an Alevi-owned television station in September. Alevis expressed concerns about security and said the government failed to meet their demands for religious reforms. Courts acquitted a man charged in 2012 with disrespecting the religious belief of a group; dismissed, after a three-year probation, the case against a woman accused in 2011 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad; and convicted seven men of the 2007 mutilation and murder of three members of a Protestant church who were tied to their chairs and each stabbed dozens of times before the killers cut their throats. Non-Sunni Muslims did not receive the same protections as recognized non-Muslim minorities although both experienced difficulty operating or opening houses of worship, challenging land and property disputes, or obtaining exemptions from mandatory religious classes. The government continued to train Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clergy and continued to fund the construction of Sunni mosques while restricting land use of other religious groups

Following an attempted coup on July 15, the government on July 20 declared a three-month state of emergency, which was renewed in October. The government ascribed responsibility for the coup attempt to self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which identifies itself as an Islam-inspired civic, cultural and education movement, though the government considers the movement a terrorist organization. In the three months following the coup attempt, police detained more than 75,000 individuals and formally arrested more than 41,000, many for alleged ties to the Gulen movement. The government suspended over 3,600 alleged Gulenists from the Diyanet .

Some foreign citizens, including several individuals with ties to Christian groups, faced detention, problems with residency-permissions, or denial of entry to the country under the state of emergency powers following the July attempted coup. On October 7, authorities detained a Protestant pastor and his wife, who had led a Protestant church in Izmir and worked in the country for more than 20 years. The government released the pastor’s wife on October 19 and subsequently granted her a one-year residency permit. Authorities formally charged the pastor with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” on December 9. In the latter half of the year, several foreign Christian missionaries were subjected to deportation, and cancellation of valid residency permits without notice. The government provided limited explanation or justification for such actions. The government denied any anti-Christian motivation underlying these actions.

According to the Protestant community in Ankara, the government provided police protection for a Protestant place of worship in Ankara following reported threats from terrorist groups.

On July 21 and August 2, the country invoked respectively Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 4 of the ICCPR, following the government’s proclamation of a state of emergency, to relax temporarily some of its obligations under the two covenants.

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the patriarchates and chief rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court. These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, with separate governing boards, in order to hold and control individual religious properties. The foundations remained unable to hold elections to renew the membership of their governing boards because the government, despite promises to do so, had still not promulgated new regulations to replace those repealed in 2013 that would have allowed the election of foundation board members.

The government continued not to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation it do so. The government’s position remained that the ecumenical patriarch was not “ecumenical,” but only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population. The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch but continued its practice of granting citizenship to a number of Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of a 2011 stopgap solution to widen the pool of candidates to become the next patriarch. The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the government in Istanbul, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens, although coreligionists from outside the country had assumed informal leadership positions of these groups in some cases.

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition. Their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations. Because the patriarchates did not have legal personality, associated foundations controlled by individual boards held all the property of the religious communities, and the patriarchates had no legal authority to direct the use of any assets or otherwise govern their communities.

The government did not enforce the legal ban against tarikats and cemaats; these groups remained active and widespread.

A majority of Protestant churches reported facing bureaucratic difficulties in registering as a place of worship and as a result, continued to be registered as church associations and to meet in unregistered locations for worship services. According to the Protestant community, there were five foundations (four from before 1936), 34 associations, and over 30 representation offices linked with these associations.

In September the government shut down 20 television and radio stations that authorities said were spreading terrorist propaganda. One of the shuttered stations was Alevi-owned TV10. In December the Radio and Television High Council shut down Alevi television channel Yol TV for “insulting President Erdogan, promoting discrimination in society, and praising terrorist organizations.”

In a September retrial, an Istanbul court acquitted Fazil Say of “openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group” for reportedly posting lines attributed to poet Omar Khayyam on social media. This followed the Supreme Court of Appeals’ October 2015 ruling that Say’s posting constituted freedom of expression, which had reversed Say’s original 2013 conviction and suspended his 10-month prison sentence.

The case of women’s rights activist and lawyer Canan Arin, who was charged with “openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group” for a reported insult to the Prophet Muhammad, was dismissed as a result of the expiration of a three-year probation period. Arin had been arrested in 2012 after delivering a speech at a conference in 2011 about child marriage, where she mentioned the Prophet Muhammad as an example. In 2013, the court had suspended the proceedings, provided the crime was not repeated for three years.

In September a Malatya Heavy Penal Court found seven men guilty of murdering three members of a Protestant church (two Turkish converts to Christianity and a German citizen) in April 2007. The court sentenced five of the defendants to three aggravated life sentences each and the other two to six years in prison. The court acquitted 14 others, including former military officers who had been charged with plotting the killings. The trial took nine years and 115 court sessions. According to the court, several of the accused recorded on their cell phones the treatment of the victims, which involved mutilation, including binding the victims to chairs and stabbing them each dozens of times before cutting their throats. The court ruled the local antiterror police and gendarmerie officers who were on duty at the time of the murders should also be investigated. At year’s end, authorities were investigating these officials and had not filed charges against any of them. In January, Malatya Administrative Court found the Interior Ministry and Malatya governor’s office negligent and ordered them to pay the German victim’s family a financial compensation of 417,000 Turkish lira ($113,596). Damages have also been awarded to the families of the two Turkish victims.

A hearing took place on October 19 in the ongoing trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault against an Izmit Protestant church and to assassinate its pastor in 2013. Additional hearings were postponed until February 2017, as the court awaited the results of an investigation against two law enforcement officials for their alleged involvement in the plot. All suspects had previously been released pending trial.

In December a prosecutor in Izmir asked for 40 years imprisonment for three suspects who battered a muezzin (who recites the call to prayer at mosques) on the night of the July coup attempt. The muezzin was attacked for reading out the Muslim funeral call (sela) to invite people to resist the coup. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

The state continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clerics inside the country, including following requirements set by the Higher Education Board, which supervised all higher education institutions. The lack of monastic seminaries within the country meant that the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates were unable to train their clerics. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, repeatedly called on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to re-open as an independent institution. In 1971, a Constitutional Court ruling that prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education led to the seminary’s closure.

In January the government announced that public employees would be allowed to arrange their lunch breaks according to the time of prayer on Fridays. In August the government lifted a regulation preventing women police officers from covering their heads for religious purposes.

According to Protestants, many prosecutors and police continued to regard certain public religious speech and religious activism with suspicion, such as proselytism by Protestant evangelicals. In August the police deported four South Korean missionaries who were distributing Bibles in Gaziantep.

In February the City Council of Bursa denied the application by German Catholic, Latin Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations to renew their permit for a building which the groups had shared for more than 10 years, and requested the eviction of these groups. The decision was cancelled a few days later, however, and no final solution has yet been reached. The congregations are able to use the church as negotiations continue.

In May the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Izmir and Mersin by refusing to provide them appropriate places of worship. In October the ECHR rejected the government’s appeal of the decision. The government had not taken any steps to resolve the issue by year’s end.

According to Protestant groups, many local officials continued to impose zoning standards on churches, such as minimum space requirements, that they did not impose on mosques. Local officials required Protestant groups to purchase 2,500 square meters of land (27,000 square feet) to construct churches, even for small congregations. Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslims, who were permitted to build small mosques in malls, airports, and other spaces. The Protestant groups said they had not applied for permits to build any new churches during the year, in part because of the zoning requirements.

In the historic and ancient Sur District of Diyarbakir Province, the Kursunlu Mosque, Hasirli Mosque, Surp Giragos Armenian Church, Mar Petyun Chaldean Church, Syriac Protestant Church, and the Armenian Catholic Church were all severely damaged during fighting between the government and the PKK between December 2015 and March. In March the government issued a decree expropriating these properties, in addition to the Syriac Mother Mary Church and Diyarbakir Protestant Church, as part of a larger expropriation of 6,300 land plots in Sur following the cessation of the fighting. Then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the general director of foundations stated the expropriation was designed to facilitate the protection and reconstruction of damaged properties, and the government intended to return the properties it determined could be salvaged, once repaired, to the original owners.

As with nonreligious properties elsewhere in Sur, the government provided little information on expropriation or compensation to the original owners, and they were not included in reconstruction planning. The Syriac and Protestant Churches and the Chaldean and Armenian Apostolic Church foundations legally challenged the expropriations. At year’s end, these cases remained ongoing, and the government had not paid compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation or property damage. In September the GDF began restoring the expropriated Armenian Catholic Church. The government said the Ministry of Culture would coordinate the restoration of some properties and the GDF would restore properties they owned.

The government did not return any properties during the year that it had seized in previous decades. Since 2011, the GDF had received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations, which had applied for compensation for seized properties. They had returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties. The other applications pending from 2011 were rejected because they did not meet the criteria as outlined in the 2011 compensation law. Since the time period for submitting compensation applications had expired, no religious foundations submitted new applications during the year. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities had previously submitted applications for the return of properties. Religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were unable to seek compensation for seized properties.

In April the Istanbul Forestry Directorate filed a lawsuit requesting the cancellation of the deeds for two properties returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2012. One of the two properties includes the hill on which Halki Seminary is located.

In March the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia (based in Lebanon) made a second application for expedited review of a lawsuit, filed with the Constitutional Court in April 2015, to recover the centuries-old headquarters of the Catholicosate of Sis in the Kozan District of Adana Province. According to the lawsuit, the headquarters, now controlled by the government but once a center of Armenian Christian life, was wrongly seized in 1915 and should be returned. In June the Constitutional Court rejected the application on procedural grounds. In December the Catholicosate applied to the ECHR for the return of the property.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, the government’s religious television channel, Diyanet TV, broadcast a daily recitation of Quranic verses from the Hagia Sophia, which was secularized and transformed into a museum in 1935. The director of religious affairs gave a special interview from the Hagia Sophia while the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast from its minarets. In October the government appointed a full-time imam to the Sultan’s Pavilion, an annex built during the Ottoman period that is adjacent to, but physically separated from the Hagia Sophia. Previously, the pavilion hosted prayers twice a day with the participation of an imam from a nearby mosque. Since appointment of the new full-time imam, prayers were held five times a day in the pavilion.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk. The Ecumenical Patriarchate cancelled this year’s service at Sumela Monastery near Trabzon because of ongoing restoration; a ceremony was held at an alternative site. The government and the Armenian Patriarchate cancelled a service at Akdamar Church, a medieval Armenian Apostolic Church in Vandue, because of ongoing security operations against the PKK. Some municipal and religious minority group leaders called for these sites to be open to worship throughout the year without restrictions.

At year’s end, the government still had not complied with a 2013 ruling by the ECHR which found that the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedoms, even though the ECHR had denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015. The ECHR ruling upheld the Alevi community’s claim that the courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to their religious convictions. Although authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, many Alevis stated the material was inadequate and, in some cases, incorrect. Construction began in March 2015 on an Alevi school, which then-National Education Minister Nabi Avci said the government would build in cooperation with the NGO Helping Hands Foundation as a venue for teaching Alevi-Bektashi beliefs. According to the government, construction of 40 percent of the school’s main building and 15 percent of the annex buildings had been completed by the end of the year.

In June Alevi organizations issued a statement protesting a Ministry of National Education memorandum that mandated teachers to read and study a book that the Alevis said described the Alevi Muslim faith as “distorted” and “decayed.”

Non-Sunni Muslims said they faced difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as “Muslim.” Members of other minority religious groups, including Protestants, also said they had difficulty obtaining exemptions. Because no alternative is provided for students who are exempted from the compulsory religious instruction, those students stand out and as a result may face additional social stigma.

The government said that the compulsory instruction covered the range of world religions, but religious groups, especially Alevis and members of the Syriac Orthodox community, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups. Some Alevis noted that students were taught incorrect information about their own faith and their parents then had to correct it at home. While the government allowed non-Muslims to select other electives to fulfill their required coursework for graduation, non-Sunni Muslims reported they often had to choose from electives concerning different aspects of Sunni Islam.

The Minister of National Education announced in October 2014 that students who attended non-Muslim minority community schools would be permitted to take elective courses in their own religion. According to the government, these courses became available for religious minority groups in 2015.

The government reported that 218 Armenian Orthodox students and 43 Jewish students answered questions on their respective religions in the high school entrance exams.

The government continued to permit the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations to operate schools under the supervision of the education ministry, and also allowed children of their noncitizen coreligionists, including children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria, to enroll in them. Because these migrant and refugee children were legally classified as “visitors,” they were ineligible to receive a diploma from these schools. The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and could be taught in the minority groups’ languages. The three communities financed most of the cost of these schools; the government paid for teachers in classes taught in the Turkish language. The government did not permit other religious groups to operate schools.

The government limited the number of students admitted to public secondary schools, assigning tens of thousands of students, based on entrance exam scores and proximity, to state-run religious schools, known as “imam hatip” schools. The government converted some regular public schools to imam hatip schools, and students reported this created a geographical hurdle for those who preferred to attend nonreligious schools. Enrollment in the imam hatip schools increased to 1.1 million students, up from approximately one million in 2015. Critics, including secular-minded parents, expressed concern the government was favoring religion over secularism in education policy. Following the July 15 coup attempt, the government closed at least 1,043 private schools, many of which were affiliated with the movement led by Fethullah Gulen, which the government designated as a “terrorist group.” The government converted some of the private schools to imam hatip schools.

In February the education directorate of the Uskudar district in Istanbul published an official memorandum asking school administrators and teachers to encourage more students to take elective religion classes.

Some required school textbooks contained language critical of missionaries. In an eighth grade textbook called History of the Turkish Republic Reforms and Ataturkism, missionary activities were listed in a section titled “National Threats.”

Many state buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray. The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings, which did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis. Although Alevi groups were able to build new cemevis, the Diyanet continued to decline to provide financial support for cemeviconstruction, in contrast with the support the Diyanet provided to Sunni groups. Alevi leaders reported there were approximately 2,500 to 3,000 Alevi cemevis in the country, an insufficient number to meet their needs. The government continued to state Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

The government still had not legally recognized cemevis as places of worship, even though the Supreme Court of Appeals had affirmed a lower court’s decision in August 2015 that cemevis are places of worship and should receive the same benefits that Sunni mosques receive, such as being exempt from paying utility bills. Most municipalities waived the utility bills only for Sunni Muslim mosques. A number of municipalities led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and People’s Democratic Party (HDP), however, recognized cemevis and waived utility bills. Alevis issued public statements calling on the government to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. In a January interview with Milliyet newspaper, President of the Diyanet Mehmet Gormez stated he opposed the recognition of cemevis as places of worship and said the issue was a “red line” for the Diyanet as its longstanding policy was that cemevis cannot be regarded as an alternative to mosques.

In June the imams of three different mosques in Izmir refused to announce a funeral service that would be held at a cemevi, saying they could not use the word “cemevi” in an announcement from a mosque.

The government continued to donate land for the construction of mosques and fund their construction through the Diyanet or municipalities.

In April the ECHR ruled Alevis were subjected to discrimination in receiving public services and were not receiving equal treatment from the government as compared with Sunni Muslims. Although the government was required by the ECHR to submit an action plan to address these concerns, the government had not done so by year’s end. The government stated it was working on submitting an action plan to ECHR to address these concerns.

In September the Diyanet began to send groups of Alevi elders to 12 different European cities to discuss Alevi religious practices at the request of Alevi- and Jafari-origin Turkish citizens living in Europe.

In February a newspaper run by government-appointed trustees highlighted the Christian faith of CHP spokesperson Selin Sayek Boke and said that her religious identity caused “serious discomfort” in the party – a move supporters interpreted as an attempt to undermine her credibility because of her faith.

The Diyanet regulated the operation of 86,762 registered mosques. The Diyanet paid the salaries of 74,379 religious personnel in 2002 and 117,378 religious personnel at the end of 2015, the last year for which data was available. The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups. In January however, the chief ombudsman’s office issued an advisory opinion that the Diyanet should pay priests’ salaries, following an appeal by the head of the Boyacikoy Surp Yerits Mangants Armenian Church Foundation. The chief ombudsman said he was in favor of “eliminating unjust treatment by amendment of related regulations.”

On July 19, the Diyanet stated it would not offer religious funerary services, including funeral prayers, for soldiers involved in the July 15 coup attempt, except for those “forcibly dragged” into the coup attempt. This was the first time that the Diyanet declared that it would not offer religious funerary services for a group of people.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, members faced prosecution and fines for their refusal to serve in the country’s military forces. In March conscientious objector Baris Gormez, a Jehovah’s Witness, was fined 7,500 lira ($2,500) by the Isparta Military Court for defiance of authority following a government appeal of a previous acquittal by the same court. In June Gormez appealed the fine and the case remained pending at year’s end.

In March prosecutors in Izmir initiated two separate cases against Ersin Olgun, a Jehovah’s Witness, for desertion of the military. Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported there were 19 similar cases for desertion and evasion of military eligibility examinations.

Some non-Muslims stated that listing their religious affiliation on national identity cards exposed them to discrimination and harassment. Members of many religious groups continued to state that, by not including a religious identity or listing an identity other than Muslim on applications for employment, they were precluded from obtaining government jobs and were discriminated against in the private sector.

In February then-Interior Minister Efkan Ala said the national identity cards would be replaced with new ones without a visible religion section; instead, the religious affiliation of an individual would be recorded in a chip on the card, visible only when scanned by a computer. According to the government, new identity cards were in distribution in four provinces, which would go up to 11 by year’s end.

In December Forestry Minister Veysel Eroglu said that Fethullah Gulen “will end up dying in the U.S. and be buried in a Jewish cemetery.”

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Then-Minister for European Union Affairs Volkan Bozkır attended the event.

In February the government again commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma when it sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul attended the commemoration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing support for religious tolerance. In December a public menorah lighting took place before several hundred people in Istanbul’s Besiktas district. The country’s Chief Rabbi led the ceremony, with participation from government representatives and members of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak, who attended the ceremony, said in his speech that Jews were never a minority in Turkey and that “they are the owners of the country as much as we are.”

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders joined representatives from various municipalities in Istanbul for a public iftar in June. The Diyanet also hosted an iftar for representatives and members of non-Muslim communities.

In September the first Christian cemetery in the province of Yalova was opened with a ceremony attended by the mayor.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the July coup attempt, there were attacks against some Muslim clerics. There were threats of violence and protests against Alevis. There were threats of violence against the Jewish community and anti-Semitic and anti-Alevi discourse in the media, including after the coup attempt. Various groups threatened Christian churches. Alevi Muslims and Christians reported regularly being the subject of discrimination and hate speech. There were incidents of vandalism against Protestant, Catholic, and Alevi places of worship.

On the night of the July 15 coup attempt, there were attacks, including stabbings, against more than 60 imams reciting prayers and calling for support against the coup through the minarets, according to news reports. In Istanbul’s Fatih municipality, a coup supporter stabbed an imam. The perpetrator was captured after the attack and prosecuted in September. The trial remained ongoing at year’s end.

Following the coup attempt, many Alevis reported threats of violence. On July 17, protesters entered an Alevi neighborhood in Malatya and reportedly shouted slogans against the failed coup and denigrating Alevis. On August 18, an armed group fired several shots in front of the Garip Dede Cemevi in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district before fleeing. There were no reported casualties and by year’s end police had not identified the attackers. Alevis said police prevented attacks in Alevi neighborhoods and no major security incidents occurred in the days immediately following the coup attempt.

Jewish residents continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and increased threats of violence throughout the country. The government responded to specific threats of violence against Jewish schools by implementing enhanced security measures.

In September police increased security precautions around a cemevi and the Gaziantep Alevi Culture Union in the Duztepe neighborhood of Gaziantep following a report the locations might be the target of a terrorist attack.

Various groups threatened Christian places of worship. According to Protestant groups, on February 14 members of a Protestant church in Adana’s Yuregir District distributed flowers to neighbors when a group came to the church with threats and protests, saying they would return on Sunday. The incident was reported to the security forces, and the police provided security with no further reported incidents.

In March the chair of the Sharia Association was fined 7,080 Turkish Lira ($1,928) for insulting and 6,000 Turkish Lira ($1,634) for threatening the chair of the Atheism Association.

The Syriac Orthodox community continued to seek agreement with the Latin Catholic community to build a second church in Istanbul to accommodate its growing population. The Syriac Orthodox community to date had only one church in Istanbul to serve an estimated local population of 17,000 to 20,000. Because the land offered by the Istanbul municipality to the Syriac Church Foundation to build a second church previously belonged to the Latin Catholic Church, the Regional Board for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage required a written agreement between the two communities. The Syriac Orthodox and Latin Catholics had not reached agreement by year’s end.

In June high school students protested in favor of modern, scientific, and secular education, including against the growth of imam hatipschools and inclusion of Quranic study electives in public schools.

Progovernment news commentators published stories attempting to associate the July 15 coup plotters with the Jewish community and the Christian community, as well as the ecumenical patriarch. In August Aksam newspaper claimed the ecumenical patriarch helped the coup plotters, an allegation based on falsely reported statements by a former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. The story was immediately denied both by the Patriarchate and the former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. In August a columnist in progovernment daily Yeni Safak associated the July 15 coup plotters with Jews by claiming the mother of Fethullah Gulen, the alleged organizer of the failed coup attempt, had a Jewish name. In December a columnist in Sabah said Fethullah Gulen was a “very clever man” who can “smell money and power instantly because he is a Jew.” He went on to link Jews to brothels and called them “liars expert at disguise.”

In January a columnist in the Islamist Vahdet newspaper said gorillas and chimpanzees in northern Africa were “cursed Jews.”

In May the first Jewish wedding held in more than four decades at the newly renovated Grand Synagogue in Edirne, which included attendance by local government officials, triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic speech on social media. On Periscope, a popular video streaming service that offered a live feed of the wedding, some social media users wrote “Kill the Jews” and “Such a pity that Hitler didn’t finish the job.”

In June a theology professor said on government-owned TRT TV that “those who did not pray were animals.” Many secularists, Alevis, and the Diyanet criticized the professor for his remarks.

In August on a Halk TV program, a guest commentator stated that Gulenist schools in the United States trained both Mormons and Gulenists.

Various nationalist Islamic groups continued to advocate transforming some former Orthodox churches, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, into mosques. The campaigns intensified after the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a 12th-century Byzantine church that had been operating as a museum for the previous 50 years, was converted into a mosque in 2013. On May 28, thousands participated in a morning Muslim prayer outside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. The Anatolian Youth Association organized the event within the context of the government’s celebration of the 563rd anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. In October a commentator on the media channel Kanal A said the 1935 decision to turn the Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum was part of a British and American conspiracy.

In November propaganda flyers appeared in the Fener neighborhood, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located, stating the patriarch used foreign Christian funding to purchase properties in Fener and renovate them into Western-style coffee shops, restaurants, and antique stores. The Patriarchate denied the allegations.

On February 25, four men attacked the Agape Protestant Church in the Guzelyali neighborhood of Samsun’s Atakum district. Video footage from the church’s security camera showed the suspects kicking the church’s door after ringing its bell. Authorities detained four suspects on March 1 for “harming property.”

In July small groups threw stones and broke windows of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon and the Malatya Protestant Church. Muslim neighbors dispersed the vandals.

In March unidentified people wrote “Alevis get out” on houses in an Alevi neighborhood in Istanbul’s Sariyer district.

In January the historic Istipol Synagogue in the Balat neighborhood in Istanbul reopened after 65 years with a morning prayer. The synagogue was built in 1694 for Jewish immigrants. After the reopening, vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic words on an outside wall.

In December members of a nationalist/Islamist youth association, Alperen Ocaklari, protested New Year celebrations by putting a gun to the head of another member dressed as Santa Claus. The president of Alperen Ocaklari said the protest was intended to draw attention to the idea that New Year’s is a Christian holiday and that “as Muslim Turks, we should be more sensitive to Islamic holidays rather than holidays that don’t belong to our culture.”

In June the Jewish community again hosted an iftar at the Grand Edirne Synagogue for hundreds of participants, including Muslims and Christians.

In August the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected a new Metropolitan for Izmir, the first election of a metropolitan for the city since 1922. In September Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew performed a liturgy at Agios Voukolos Church in Izmir for the new metropolitan’s coronation.

In January members of the Greek Orthodox community observed Epiphany with a traditional cross-throwing ceremony in Izmir for the first time in 94 years.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyanet, and GDF, to underscore the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at all religious groups. They urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution and restoration, and discussed specific cases of religious discrimination. The Ambassador and Consul General in Istanbul raised the issue of the Hagia Sophia’s historical importance and extraordinary significance, as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and meaningful dialogue between religions, in their meetings with government officials. At the Consulate in Adana, senior consulate officials, and senior visitors urged the rapid restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir.

In meetings in Washington, the Secretary of State and Deputy Secretary of State urged government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki. The U.S. Ambassador, in meetings with government officials reiterated the U.S. position on this issue.

In June the Department of State’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government officials, Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva, and members of the Jewish community to discuss anti-Semitism and to underscore support for the community.

In October the Department of State’s Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs met with government officials and various religious minority communities, including the Protestant, Alevi Muslim, and Syriac Orthodox communities, to discuss religious freedom concerns following the July 15 coup attempt. The Special Representative also expressed support to government officials and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for reopening the Halki seminary.

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate officials regularly engaged with a wide range of religious community leaders to address concerns and promote interreligious dialogue. They utilized social media platforms to emphasize the importance of inclusion of religious minorities and counter perceptions of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.

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