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President Erdogan attends church opening claiming new ‘tolerant’ approach

Middle East and North Africa

President Erdogan attends church opening claiming new ‘tolerant’ approach

President Erdogan of Turkey. Photo credit: Presidency of the Republic of Turkey.

Turkey’s top two officials attended the reopening of 120-year-old Bulgarian Orthodox church in Istanbul earlier this month (7 January).

Speaking at the event, President Erdogan said, “It is the responsibility of the state to ensure everyone can worship freely,” while Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım asserted that the event was “an example of the tolerant atmosphere in Turkey.”

Despite the claims of “tolerance”, Turkey’s Protestant Christians have reported increasing harassment and violence in recent years, including attacks on pastors. Christians are frequently vilified in the government-controlled press and the continued mandatory listing of religion on I.D. cards leaves Christians vulnerable to discrimination.

The reconstruction of the St Stephen Orthodox church was jointly funded by the Istanbul Municipality and the Bulgarian government.