Year: 2021
World Watch List: 25
Score: 69
Leader: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Population: 83.8 million
Christian: 171,000
Main Religion: Islam
Government: Republican Parliamentary Democracy
Source of Persecution: Islamic Oppression

Open Doors is raising prayer for persecuted believers in Turkey. 

Meet “Hans-Jurgen Louven”

“The only reason I can think of for [forcing me to leave] is that we are people of faith, and at times we have shared our faith with the local people.” 

Persecution Type: Dictatorial paranoia, Ethno-religious hostility , Islamic oppression, Religious nationalism , Clan oppression 

What does persecution look like in Turkey?

In Turkey, religious nationalism is very strong and is growing, putting enormous pressure on Christians. In contrast with previous year,s the government has not only targeted foreign Christians, but has also banned foreign Christians who are married to Turkish citizens—and who have children who are Turkish citizens. The atmosphere of increasing nationalism leaves precious little room for anyone to proclaim a different message, and Christians have to take great care in sharing their faith with others, as it can arouse suspicion. 

Converting to Christianity from Islam is not illegal, but converts will likely face opposition and pressure from their family and the local community. In some cases, this can lead to divorce or disinheritance. The dangers mean some believers lead a double life and hide their conversion. Religious affiliation on identity documents can be legally changed, but in truth it may be a stressful and difficult process. Even leaving one denomination for another can be problematic.
This cocktail of Islam and nationalism also affects Christians from non-Muslim backgrounds, for example, ethnic minorities such as Greeks, Armenians and Syriacs. They are barely recognized as full members of Turkish society and encounter all kinds of legal and bureaucratic obstructions.
Christians have limited access to state employment, and experience discrimination in the private sector, especially where employers have ties to the government. Since religious affiliation is still recorded on old identity cards and the electronic chip of new identity cards, it is easy to discriminate against Christian applicants.  

What has changed this year?

Turkey has jumped nine places since last year’s World Watch List, reflecting the increasing and stifling impact of religious nationalism on Christianity and a clear increase in reported violence. 

The repurposing of two historic churches from museums to mosques over the summer of 2020 reinforced growing nervousness among Christians over the Islamic and nationalistic direction in which the country is moving. In July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – a church built in the sixth century and converted to a mosque in the 15th century before being turned into a museum in 1935 – would again be turned into a mosque. Two weeks later, the building was opened for Muslim prayers. 

This has led to fear among Christians, with some younger believers considering leaving the country and moving to the West. There is even evidence to suggest that younger people generally in Turkey are refusing to buy into the pervading religious nationalism. 

Meanwhile, many foreign Christians are having to leave Turkey involuntarily. According to the Association of Protestant Churches, since January 2019 almost 60 foreign nationals – many working in Turkey as pastors or community leaders – have  been told to leave or have not been allowed to re-enter the country. 

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Converts experience greater opposition in rural areas of Turkey. Consequently, a number of them live in urban places so they can live in more freedom. 
Historical Christian groups like the Armenian and Assyrian (Syriac) churches face high pressure and hostility in the south-eastern region of Turkey.  

Open Doors is raising prayer for persecuted believers in Turkey. 


  • Pray that the stifling and suspicious atmosphere for Christians in Turkey will change.
  • Pray that foreign Christians will be granted favor in their residency applications and in ongoing appeals against residency bans.
  • Ask that all converts under pressure for their faith in Jesus will stand firm, grow in their love for Jesus, and be guarded from all harm.

    Image Gallery

    Related News

    What Is Life Like For Secret Believers In The Middle East?

    In many closed countries in the Middle East, Christians cannot share their faith publicly – or, if they do, they risk attack, rejection or imprisonment. Open Doors fieldworkers like Rashid, Jonathan and Peter (names changed) courageously work with secret believers, ensuring that they don’t face persecution alone. In this interview, they explain what secret believers experience in the Middle East.

    The Secret Police Wanted Names. Taher Wouldn’t Give Them.

    Taher* and his family were secret believers in a closed country in the Middle East. When their faith was discovered, Taher was arrested and ruthlessly interrogated by the secret police – but he refused to give up the names of fellow believers. Here’s his story.

    What Is Christmas Like In The Middle East and North Africa?

    At Christmas, we see Bethlehem – a small, then-backwater town in the Middle East – take centre stage for one of the...

    2021 World Watch List Map

    (A3 PDF)
    Download yours now