06/04/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of seven U.S. Representatives sent a letter to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressing their concern for continued religious freedom violations by Turkey. In the letter, the Representatives call for USCIRF to recommend to the State Department that Turkey be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the most severe designation given by the State Department for religious freedom violations.
The group of lawmakers, led by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), highlighted the repeated religious freedom violations of Turkey against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, located in Istanbul. Despite the Patriarchate’s importance to the global Orthodox Christian Church, the Turkish government still rejects its legal status and identity and inhibits the freedom of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, believed in the Orthodox community to be the direct successor of Christ’s Apostle Andrew. In turn, by violating the religious freedom of the Patriarch, the Turkish government also infringes upon the religious liberty of the global community of Orthodox Christians.
The letter also specifically mentions the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a decision advocated for by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer. “We urge the USCIRF to work with other US government institutions, as well as international and multilateral organizations to ensure the full protections of the Hagia Sophia defined in the site’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” the letter implores.
This letter also falls within a pattern of increasing condemnation of Turkey for its human rights violations among U.S. government officials. In April, President Biden affirmed the Armenian Genocide of 1915, becoming only the second U.S. president to do so and angering Turkish leaders. Furthermore, USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza recently condemned Turkey for indiscriminately bombing Christian villages in northern Iraq, causing tremendous structural damage to the local church.
Many hope that this condemnation of Turkey for its ongoing and increasingly egregious religious freedom violations will continue, in stark contrast to the lack of pressure applied to President Erdogan during the Trump administration. As Turkey threatens Christians throughout the region, these members of Congress hope that USCIRF will be able to take a stand and recommend Turkey as a CPC.