08/01/2021 Syria (International Christian Concern) – Turkey’s work to restore churches in Syria has been met with distrust and accusations of ulterior motives. The Turkish Ministry of Defense recently lauded its restoration and maintenance work on the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mar Tuma in Ras al-Ain. However, critics link Turkey’s involvement with the local church to a desire to promote a better image to the West.
In mid-July, International Christian Concern (ICC) and many other organizations participated in the International Religious Freedom Summit, which included discussions on Turkey’s religious freedom violations. This includes Turkey’s expulsion of Christian minorities and destruction of churches, restrictions and harsh rhetoric from Turkish-backed factions, as well as Turkey’s actions at home and in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, Iraq, and Cyprus. Key issues were announced ahead of the summit, after which Turkey appears to be promoting itself as a protector of minorities.
“Turkey will not be able to change this image, which requires assiduous work, not just empty gestures. Religious freedoms are not limited to building and renovating churches, but rather require guaranteeing the rights and freedoms…Turkey’s restoration and maintenance of churches will neither change its policy toward religion nor make it a state of freedom and democracy,” said the nonprofit, Syrian Christians for Peace.
Turkey’s portrayed actions of protecting the Christian minority go against years of pressure against the community, including the arrest and imprisonment of a priest who was accused of serving PKK members at a monastery. Ras al-Ain once was home to more than 210 Christian families prior to 2012. Now only 14 Christians remain, after several fleeing a second time after the Turkish-led Operation Peace Spring in October 2019.