HALC calls on USCIRF to reclassify the Republic of Turkey as a Country of Particular Concern

Hellenic Leaders
3 min readMay 13, 2024

The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) urges a reconsideration of Turkey’s classification in the recently released 2024 Annual Report. In that report, despite a growing trend of violations of religious freedom by Turkey, the country was classified as a country on USCIRF’s Special Watch List. We request that you reconsider your designation, as it is clear that Turkey should properly be categorized as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

Turkey’s recent actions have raised serious concerns regarding religious freedom, particularly with regard to its treatment of Christian communities and heritage sites. Of particular concern is the conversion last week of Chora Church, a historically significant Christian landmark, into a mosque. Despite operating as a museum for decades, last week, Chora Church was opened to Muslim worshippers. Curtains now cover the Byzantine mosaics of Jesus and of Mary with the infant Jesus.

This conversion, just a few years after the conversion of UNESCO World Heritage Site Hagia Sophia, represents the Turkish government’s troubling trend of disregarding both religious freedom as well as cultural heritage.

In 2012, the Commission designated Turkey a Country of Particular Concern, citing the “systematic and egregious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief that affect all religious communities in Turkey.” Specifically, in designating Turkey a CPC, the Commission listed as factors the continued closure of Halki Seminary and Turkey’s continuous interference “with religious communities’ internal affairs, especially for minority faiths, including their rights to train clergy and provide religious education, and has hindered their right to own property and build and maintain houses of worship.” The Commission in 2012 also noted Turkey’s continued occupation of the northern part of Cyprus resulting in “1) the inability of Orthodox Christians, other religious communities, and clergy to access and hold services at their places of worship and cemeteries in the north, particularly those in Turkish military bases and zones; 2) the disrepair of churches and cemeteries and issues relating to the preservation of religious heritage, such as iconography, mosaics, and other religious symbols; and 3) the lack of schools and opportunities for young people in the north, which has led to an exodus of Greek Cypriots and other religious minorities.”

The situation today is far worse than the circumstances which prompted the Commission to designate Turkey a CPC in 2012. Today, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarch are still denied their rights by the Turkish government. Halki Seminary remains closed, despite international calls for its reopening. Churches have been converted into mosques — including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hagia Sophia in 2020 and just last week, the conversion of Chora Church. The deterioration of religious freedom in Turkey since 2012 merits more pressure on Turkey to bring its laws, policies, and practices in line with international law, not less.

In addition to more accurately categorizing Turkey’s conduct, we also urge the Commission to resume reporting on Christians and Christian heritage sites in occupied Cyprus. The religious freedom of this community continues to be undermined by the actions of the Turkish government. It is imperative that their plight be accurately documented and brought to the attention of the international community.

We urge the Commission to reevaluate Turkey’s classification and to designate it as a Country of Particular Concern in recognition of the ongoing threats to religious freedom both within its borders as well as the occupied part of Cyprus.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your continued efforts in promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world.

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Hellenic Leaders

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