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Bagnayr Village Monastery

The monastery of Bagnayr from the east in the 1900s, unknown photographer; Its remnants in 2010, photo by Samvel Karapetian.

The Ancient Christian Heritage of Present-Day Turkey

Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Pontians, and Arameans (Syriacs) have long lived in what is present-day Turkey.

Thousands of years before the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, these nations gave birth to great civilizations and established a rich civic, religious and cultural heritage. They were, upon these biblical lands, among the first Christians, dating back to the travels through Anatolia of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Armenia, in 301 A.D., became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.

During the World War I-era, after centuries of growing intolerance and persecution, Ottoman Turkey perpetrated a government-sponsored campaign of genocide against its Armenian and other Christians subjects, resulting in the murder of over 2,000,000 Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Pontians, Arameans (Syriacs), and the exile of hundreds of thousands others from their homelands of thousands of years. The Republic of Turkey, heir to the Ottomans, continued these genocidal policies against the remaining Christian population, through ethnic-cleansing, organized massacres, destruction of churches and religious sites, illegal expropriation of properties, discriminatory policies, restrictions on worship, and other means. As a result only a small fraction of the historic Christian population that once populated Anatolia remains today in modern Turkey.

The territory of present-day Turkey, home to many of the most important centers of early Christianity - most notably Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople - contains a rich legacy of Christian heritage, including thousands of religious sites and properties. The endangered Christian communities within its borders, in addition to all the crimes and persecutions visited upon them throughout their histories, continue, to this day, to endure oppressive restrictions imposed by the government of Turkey on their internationally recognized right to worship in freedom in their historic places of worship, which are, still today, in Turkish hands as the result of genocide.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently designated Turkey as one of a handful of countries on their watch list for a third consecutive year. The State Department regularly documents the persecution of Christians in Turkey, including the improper confiscation of their properties. The remaining Christians in Turkey are, all too often, prevented from praying in their historic churches, many of which are desecrated on a daily basis and even used as storage sheds. In very rare instances, Turkey has undertaken repairs of selected Christian churches, but refused to return them to the rightful church owners, and instead converting them into museums, where prayer, as a rule, is prohibited.