Secularism is a cardinal principle of modern Turkey, founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. Wanting to modernize his country, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the latter not only transformed the political system but also abolished the caliphate , a title that allowed Ottoman sultans to proclaim themselves leaders of Muslims around the world.
The Turkish Constitution defines Turkey as a secular state. In the 1982 version, article 2 states that Turkey is a “Democratic, secular and social rule of law”. This Turkish model differs, however, from the French model, which establishes a total separation between the organization of religions and that of the State.
A 99% Muslim population, according to the state
In Turkey, a Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), placed under the responsibility of the government, controls religious structures, in particular that of Sunni Islam, which is largely dominant in the country. In addition, on the identity cards of Turkish citizens appears the religious affiliation.
According to Turkish state data, 99.8% of the population is Muslim, but these figures are disputed in particular by the Alevi minority, which represents around a quarter of the population. The state does not recognize the particularity of this heterodox Islam and includes it in the statistics of Sunnism.
On the other hand, three other religions, and their institutions, are officially recognized: Judaism, the Greek-Orthodox Church, and an Armenian Church. But the number of their followers is very low and hardly represents more than 0.2% of the population. The Turkish research institute Konda Research and Consultancy, for its part, claims that 5% of the population identifies as non-believers.
The majority Sunni current
Among Muslims, three quarters, according to the government, are Sunnis, like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a quarter Alevi – the Konda Research and Consultancy Institute, for its part, reports only 6% of Alevi Turks. This population has long been the object of discrimination, and even suffered pogroms in the 1960s and 1980s.
The main opposition candidate for the presidential election, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, caused a sensation a few weeks ago by claiming this confession: the video he shot on this occasion counted more than 100 million views.
Under the leadership of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which oversees the practice of Islam and the Islamic religious heritage, each imam is first and foremost a civil servant, paid by him. The direct authority exercised by the political government has thus enabled Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the outgoing president in power for twenty years, to loosen the rules of secularism. His party, the AKP, indeed belongs to the current of political Islam.
Thus, once confined to the private sphere, religion is now very present in the public space, especially during the month of Ramadan. The Islamic headscarf, which was banned in higher education and the civil service, is gradually being restored.
The faithful of religious minorities are concentrated in Istanbul, in the big cities, as well as in the south-east of Turkey. Istanbul, former Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, remains the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the first jurisdiction in the Orthodox world.
Although there are no official figures, the latest US report on international religious freedom includes those given by these communities. Christians would thus number approximately 90,000 Apostolic Orthodox Armenians, 25,000 Roman Catholics, 25,000 Syriac Orthodox and 15,000 Russian Orthodox.
Less numerous still, the Chaldean Christians represent 3,000 faithful, while the Greek-Orthodox have only 2,500. Finally, the Protestants and the various Evangelical churches have between 7,000 and 10,000 faithful. As for the Jewish community, it counts between 12,000 and 16,000 faithful.
Among these communities, only the Armenians, the Jews and the Greek-Orthodox are protected by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. Following it, a governmental institution, the “General Directorate of Foundations”, was created in 1924, and still oversees today churches, synagogues, monasteries, and even parochial schools.