It is with great sadness that we must inform you that since 2019 it has been made increasingly difficult for foreign Protestant clergy serving in Turkey to be resident in our country.
The Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation (IPKV) was founded in 1999 as the first Protestant Foundation in the history of the Republic of Turkey; furthermore when, in 2006, our Foundation’s Head Office and chapel building were granted official status as a place of worship (church) the IPKV became the first Protestant Church in the history of the Republic of Turkey to gain official legal status.
The main aim of our Foundation as written in our Articles of Association is “to meet the religious needs of citizens who are Protestants and foreigners resident in Turkey who share the same religion, in accordance with the Constitution of the United Nations, multilateral European Agreements relating to human rights and freedoms, the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the laws of Turkey.” A fundamental requirement of the Protestant faith is to obey the laws of the land; this principle requires us, wherever we are in the world, to live in peace and brotherly love with all members of society irrespective of their opinions or faith and to serve the public interest and work for the good of society. Since its establishment, our Foundation continues to meet the religious needs of Protestants through 11 Representative Offices in different provinces of Turkey. Due to a shortage of qualified Protestant clergy in our country our Foundation also employs foreign clergy. For this reason, the Spiritual Leader of our Foundation is a foreigner and has been employed from the commencement of the Foundation to the present day as a clergyman (Pastor).
Our Foundation continues to serve in the international arena; we are both pleased and proud to create a cultural mosaic and to take on the role of being a bridge between nations. In this light, we held various events in 2010 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Foundation and received congratulatory messages on this occasion from the then Prime Minister Hon. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since our Spiritual Leader is Spanish and in recent years the Republic of Turkey and Kingdom of Spain had jointly chaired the Alliance of Civilizations, our Foundation invited the Spanish Justice Ministry’s Minister for Religious Affairs to join our 10th anniversary celebrations; during this visit we arranged for him to meet with the Minister for Religious Affairs of the Republic of Turkey in order to contribute to the brotherly relationship between the two nations and to strengthen the climate of tolerance, efforts that we continue to this day.
However, it is with great sadness that we have to report that since 2019 it has been made more difficult for foreign clergy who serve the Protestant Church community in Turkey to be resident in our country, and that our requests for information concerning this matter have not received a satisfactory reply. We have received information that many foreigners, both clergy and lay members of the Protestant faith, have been required to obtain prior approval before entering the country, on grounds that we cannot understand and for reasons that we have been unable to ascertain. Furthermore, as a result of the imposition of this requirement for prior approval, which acts as a form of entry ban to Turkey, we have learned that foreigners already resident in our country have not had their residence permits renewed, or even have had them cancelled. In particular, the residence permit application of the foreign wife of the Turkish citizen and father of three who serves as a clergyman in our Ankara Representative Office has been rejected. Furthermore we have learned that in November 2019, the requirement for prior approval for entry (“permission N”) was imposed upon our Spiritual Leader who is from Spain and who has served our Foundation and the churches it represents continuously since 2001 with permission from the Ministry of Employment and Social Security to work as a “clergyman”. We have applied to legal means of redress as we trust completely in the Turkish Legal System to be sufficient and able to deliver justice. But while we hope that this is just a mistake and it will be rectified, we felt it necessary to issue a press statement to share with you how this situation has saddened us so deeply. We wish to make it clear that all the clergy of our Foundation respectfully obey all laws, especially the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, and are extremely careful in all their actions. They approach people from all faiths in our country in a spirit of love, respect and tolerance. It is helpful for us to underline that our Foundation acts solely to meet the religious needs that it was established to meet, it has no activities outside of this aim, takes no part in any political organization whatsoever and will never do so in the future.
As Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey states, the Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law, bearing in mind the concepts of public peace, national solidarity and justice, respecting human rights: “Everyone possesses freedom of conscience, religion and opinion”. As is well-known in February 2020 the Foreign Minister made an extremely appropriate speech detailing the injustice when a mufti who was carrying out the obligations of his religion was arrested in Greece. We would like to state that we share in the sensitivity of our country in this arena and we agree with the statement made by the Foreign Minister; we trust that in no country no clergyman will be deprived of the right to fulfill their religious obligations, nor will they be subjected to an arbitrary ruling based solely on their religious beliefs.
During this tragic period where our country and the whole world are affected by the Covid-19 disaster we extend our condolences to all our fellow citizens who have lost loved ones and wish a speedy recovery to all our fellow citizens who are struggling with the infection.
By explaining in the foregoing paragraphs the difficulties we are experiencing, we present our heartfelt request for our honorable state officials to extend their hand of assistance to us.
We humbly present our desire that the freedom of thought, religion and conscience enshrined in the basic rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and international agreements will be upheld. With this hope, we respectfully submit this information regarding the difficult situation we find ourselves in as Protestants to public opinion and to the fair judgement of the State.
Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation
Board of Directors