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A worship service at Bursa’s
French Church Cultural Centre
led by Pastor Ismail.
Photo: World Watch Monitor

Church-going Christians in Bursa, a large city located within northwest Turkey, were ordered by officials to vacate their premises by February 26th. We are delighted to report that on the 23rd, three days before the previously announced deadline, city authorities had rescinded the order to vacate. Various congregations share the historic "French church" dating back to the 1880s -- the only recognized place of Christian worship in Bursa.

For decades, the church sat in ruins. Aykan Erdemir, a Turkish academic who grew up in Bursa and is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told reporters that as a child he played among the piles of rubble with friends. He saw the church's reopening as a symbol of Bursa rediscovering its multicultural past.

Upon news of the initial eviction order, Aykan was mindful of Turkey's failure to institutionalize religious freedom for its non-Muslim minority. "Christians do not have any legal entitlement to the building. They only have usage rights for the time being, which I think is a very precarious situation," he explains. "Members of non-majority religions have to depend on the goodwill of bureaucrats and the majority population. Such problems will continue to happen until religious minorities have property rights for their houses of worship and restitution rights to use their historical churches."

The church remains a symbol of the struggle experienced by the city's non-Muslims to become an accepted part of society. Pastor Ismail Kulakciolgu, who represents one of the four congregations that regularly conduct worship services at the historical church, tried to convince the council that Bursa would lose a priceless piece of its cultural heritage if the congregations were forced out of their building: "We're trying to explain that this church, which is used as a house of worship by different congregations, is perhaps the only example of its kind in the world."

Additional reports, including informative video clips, pertaining to persecution in this country are available at the Turkey Country Report.

Let us join together in praising God for the permission that was recently granted by local governing officials to the members of this multicultural church in Turkey, allowing for the continuance of their worship services. Pray that as these Christians, representing various denominational affiliations, gather peacefully in this beautiful sanctuary of worship, their special bond of unity and love will serve as a strong witness to others in the city of Bursa and throughout Turkey. Also pray that their Turkish society will champion religious liberty for all of the country's citizens.