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Christians in the Muslim World

The cautious optimism of Christians in Turkey

Interview with Mons. Luigi Padovese, Vicar of Anatolia



Some Arab countries' newspapers, such as El Watan and Le Maghreb in Algeria, and the Daily Star in Lebanon, have highlighted the "great lesson" for the Middle East coming from the latest elections in Turkey. According to a number of commentators, the Turks have chosen moderation, stability, social peace and dialogue, as opposed to conflict. Do you believe this description is realistic?


Certainly the fact that the electorate have chosen Erdoğan's government is a positive sign based on the consideration that the economic situation of our country has improved. On the whole, Turkey has advanced towards political stability, and this has allowed some European markets -- especially the German and the Italian -- to make investments here. Since the economy is acutely sensitive to any current situation, I believe that such investments would not have been made had there been a great risk of political destabilisation. I think that the possibility of a military intervention to safeguard the secular state has been avoided, at least for the moment. It seems to me that the secular side supported by the army - before the new parliamentary configuration with AKP representatives forming a large majority -- prefers to sit back and watch rather than act. Raffi Hermonn, Armenian, Vice-President of the Association for Human Rights has declared that for the first time some Christians have voted for some so-called Islamists in the hope of an agreement between the non-Muslim Turkish minorities and the State. In what way does your Christian community look at these times of change? I would like to point out that if the Christian presence in Turkey has almost disappeared this has happened under governments that defended laicality. It is true that there still remains some perplexity about Erdoğan's pro-Islamic outlook; on the other hand, the twofold link he is trying to establish with Europe shows a democratic propensity that should also reflect on the minorities. The recent law on the return of confiscated goods to the religious communities might be a first indication of this change. Evidently there are still many steps to be taken in this direction and, anyway, they do not regard the Christian minorities only. We shall see how the situation evolves in the immediate future. To use a metaphor, I would say that before opening the front door it is necessary to open the window and see what is going on outside. If the problems of the minorities are tackled with the usual "tomorrow, maybe... we shall proceed slowly, etc." then we will realise that nothing has changed. Right now, I would say that Turkish Christians display a "cautious optimism" re the AKP. A cautious optimism also because it seems that the very idea of "Turkish secularism" seems to be in crisis?


The recent history of Turkey shows how a political Islam has not managed to impose itself in this country. Bearing this in mind, Erdoğan seems to have taken an alternative route where politics is not serving religion but where religion does not strictly submit to the State. In fact, I would not regard his wife wearing the veil as an attempt on the secular State but rather as the wish to express her religious identity. Personally, I believe that the concept of laicality such as has taken shape in Turkey throughout the last century should be reconsidered in the light of the present social development, where democracy and pluralism are trying to coexist. It is still to be seen whether these two values will also be valid for the minorities. From their general application we will be able to understand where the new government wants to lead Turkey.