Eastern Orthodoxy in Turkey

Hagios Georgios cathedral in Istanbul

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is today the religion of only a very small minority in Turkey. It was once the dominant religion, during the time of the Byzantine Empire, as the region that comprises Turkey today was a central part of the Byzantine heritage. Today, less than one tenth of one percent of the population are Orthodox Christians. The provinces of Istanbul and Hatay, which includes Antakya, are the main centers of Christianity in Turkey, with comparatively dense Christian populations, though they are still very small minorities in these areas. The traditional variant of Orthodox Christianity present in Turkey is the Eastern Orthodox branch, focused mainly in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox population of Turkey was substantially reduced as a result of the Greek genocide preceding and during World War I. Additionally, the vast majority of Greek Orthodox Christians were forced to leave the territory of Turkey in a population swap following the Treaty of Lausanne. Included among that transfer were many Turkish speaking Christians, who were nonetheless sent to Greece. Although the Greek Orthodox populations of Istanbul and some Turkish Aegean Islands were officially protected under the treaty, discrimination and harsh treatment, culminating in the Istanbul Pogrom led to further emigration. Many Greek Orthodox people living in Istanbul and the Islands were at various times arbitrarily stripped of their Turkish citizenship. Finally, a 1971 law significantly limiting the operation of private universities led to the closure of the Halki Seminary, the main theological school of the Orthodox community. Despite a 40-year campaign to reopen the school and periodic discussion of the matter by Turkish politicians, it remains closed.

Indeed, İzmir (formerly Grecian Smyrna) used to have a Greek Orthodox majority until the 20th century, but the Christian population in the area today is now insignificant. Despite this decline, however, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Greek Orthodox leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church has his seat in Istanbul, and an Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate exists in Istanbul as well, though the latter is not recognized by other Orthodox communities worldwide and has only a tiny number of adherents. Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch is based in Damascus, Syria. This is probably due to the history Christianity has in the region, as Constantinople used to be the religious centre of Eastern Orthodox during the Middle Ages, and the famous Apostle Paul of Tarsus was from Turkey and performed his first of three missions trips recorded in Acts exclusively in that area.

A significant number of Antiochian Greeks who are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in Turkey live in Istanbul. They are mostly concentrated in Hatay province. They have their cathedral in Antioch, but are also present in İskenderun, Samandağ, and Altınözü. In 1995, their total population was estimated at 10,000.[1] While the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul numbered 67,550 persons in 1955.[2] However, after the Istanbul Pogrom orchestrated by Turkish authorities against the Greek community in that year, their number was dramatically reduced to only 48,000.[3] Today, the Greek community numbers about 2,000 people.[4]

See also


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  1. The Greeks of Turkey, 1992-1995 Fact-sheet by Marios D. Dikaiakos
  2. "Η μειονότητα των Ορθόδοξων Χριστιανών στις επίσημες στατιστικές της σύγχρονης Τουρκίας και στον αστικό χώρο". Demography-lab.prd.uth.gr. Retrieved 2015-08-11.
  3. Karimova Nigar, Deverell Edward. "Minorities in Turkey" (PDF). The Swedish Institute of International Affairs. p. 7
  4. Gilson, George. "Destroying a minority: Turkey's attack on the Greeks", book review of (Vryonis 2005), Athens News, 24 June 2005.
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