Almost all Turks are Muslims, although by no means all are practicing believers. During the Turkish Republic since 1923, the paradoxical relationship has prevailed that the state controls the religion, even though the religion is officially separate from the state. And despite the fact that a large majority of the population is religious, religious practice has long been viewed with suspicion by the rulers.
In the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks conquered Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. After that, their sultans also began to call themselves caliphs (“deputies”; Prophet Muhammad’s successors). They saw themselves as leaders of all Sunni Muslims and were also recognized as the caliphs by most of the Muslim world.
When Turkey became a republic in the 1920s, the caliphate was abolished. Religious schools were closed, women were banned from using veil and Islamic law, Sharia, was replaced by Western-inspired legislation.
A secularism imposed from above has been one of the pillars of the Republic, but has not meant that the state has been religiously neutral. Rather, the state has seen it as its task to supervise the practice of religion.
The state owns all mosques, even though Islam has lost its status as a state religion, and the Imams (prayer leaders) are government employees. The Friday prayers of the mosques must be approved by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DIB or Diyanet), where all citizens regardless of religion pay taxes. No religious community other than Sunni Islam of the Hanafite legal tradition receives state support.
Most Turks and Kurds are Sunnis. However, a significant proportion of both peoples are Alevites – a direction most common in Turkey. The Alevites have been estimated at between 11 and 20 percent of Turkey’s population. They live evenly throughout the country. Since ancient times, Alevites have often acted outwardly as Sunni Muslims to protect themselves from oppression.
The Alevites are Shia Muslims in the sense that they regard Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali (hence the name Alevites) as the true heirs of the Prophet. Otherwise, they do not have much in common with, for example, the Shia Muslims in Iran. The Alevites hold various groups with features of both ancient Central Asian religion, Eastern Christianity and other teachings. They call themselves Muslims but abstain from many Muslim traditions. The Alevites supported Kemal Atatürk (see Modern History) and have seen secularism as a protection against Sunni dominance. In the years before the 1980 military coup, bloody clashes between Sunnis and Alevites occurred. Only during the last 20 years have the Allevites been able to openly operate their assembly rooms, called cemevi, but they are still not formally legally allowed.
- Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Turkey, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.
After 1980, secularization policies became less stringent. The military wanted to undermine the radical left by giving way to popular, Sunni Islam. But for many young people, the practice of faith became a way to protest the ruling elite, with its Western European lifestyle.
Within the state apparatus, secularists continued their struggle against religious expression. Until the 2010s, for example, it was forbidden for female students, civil servants and MPs to wear Islamic headscarves in study rooms and workplaces. Women who wore a headscarf in their free time could have trouble getting public services. After winning a referendum on a series of constitutional supplements in 2010, the Islamic-based AKP government, which came to power in 2002, received support from the Higher Education Commission (YÖK) to in practice allow female students to cover their hair.
Today, the headscarf is an obvious feature in most public environments.
Among both Sunnis and Alevites, Islamic mysticism, Sufism, with its order of importance has an important place. The country father Kemal Atatürk tried in vain to abolish the order or the brotherhood. Officially, they are banned but they exert great influence in politics. The members of the order are sometimes called dervishes.
The Sunni society that has had the greatest influence in society in recent times and has attracted the most attention is led by Fethullah Gülen and is usually called Hizmet (meaning approximately the service or duty), but usually only the Gülen movement (see Modern History and Current Politics).
Fewer than one percent of Turkey’s residents today profess to religions other than Islam. Among Christians, there are then ancient Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox (Syrians) as well as Armenians and Nestorians (so-called Assyrians) in Turkey. However, all of these have been reduced to small minorities, now living mainly in Istanbul. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul – or the “Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople”, as he is still called – is still today the leader in the highest rank among Greek Orthodox Christians in the world.
For Christian communities, the state control of religious practice involves a number of restrictions. For example, they are not allowed to build churches on land they own, without state permission, and such permits are not granted. The training of Christian priests in Turkey is not allowed.
Like the Christians, the many small Jewish groups in Turkey have greatly reduced through emigration. For centuries, however, for the Jews of Europe, the Ottoman Empire was a haven from persecution, since the Sultan of Istanbul received many of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.
HDP is excluded from constitutional work
Prime Minister Davutoğlu says the HDP must not be involved in scheduled talks between the parliamentary parties on a new constitution. He points out that the “disrespectful” statements of the pro-Kurdish party made it impossible as a negotiating partner.
State of emergency in southeast
An emergency permit is being introduced in parts of the Kurdish-dominated region after clashes in Diyarbakır and the province of Mardin between police and protesters have claimed at least seven lives. In the course of a week, Turkish security forces say they killed over 100 militant Kurds. According to Turkish media, around 10,000 soldiers and police have been stationed in the cities of Cizre and Silopi, where the conflict is most acute. President Erdoğan says the state will “wipe out” the PKK. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş urges the people to “honorable resistance”.
Twitter is fined
The Turkish state fines the microblogging Twitter for refusing to remove material that, according to the state, defends terrorist activities. Twitter is fined about 50,000 euros. Turkish authorities have long been critical of the fact that messages praising the Kurdish PKK guerrilla could be spread via Twitter.
The lawsuit in the United States against Gülen
On behalf of the Turkish government, a British law firm is filing a lawsuit against Fethullah Gülen in a US court. According to the lawsuit, the exiled religious leader has committed human rights violations by ordering supporters in the Turkish judiciary to, among other things, falsify evidence of corruption against high-ranking Turkish politicians. It is the first legal case against Gülen outside Turkey. In his former homeland, he is subject to several processes, including trying to overthrow the government.
The EU promises billions to help stop refugees
The EU promises Turkey € 3 billion “for the time being”, against the country’s efforts to curb the flow of refugees to Europe. Turkey is also promised a fresh start in the Union membership negotiations and to attend two summits with EU leaders each year. The settlement takes place in the context of increasing desperation within the EU over the influx of mainly Syrian refugees who have previously resided in Turkey. At the same time, there is widespread skepticism within the Union towards a rapprochement with Turkey, where respect for human rights and media freedom has deteriorated dramatically for a few years.
Editors are charged with espionage
The editor-in-chief Can Dündar and the Anchor chief Erdem Gül of the Cumhuriyet newspaper are arrested and prosecuted for espionage, after the newspaper claimed that the Turkish state sold weapons to the extremist movement IS in Syria. The magazine has published pictures of what is said to show how security forces find weapons on trucks at the Syrian border, heading into Islamist-controlled territory. According to the newspaper, the cars belonged to the security service MIT. The charges lead to major protests in Istanbul and condemned by the Turkish opposition. The EU and the US also say they are deeply concerned by the arrests.
New government ready
A new Turkish government is joining, as before with Ahmet Davutoğlu as prime minister.
Turkey shoots down Russian fighter aircraft
The Turkish defense shoots down a Russian fighter plane, which it claims violated Turkish airspace at the Syrian border. The shooting is considered to be one of the most serious incidents between a Natoland and Russia in half a century. Several days of fierce word war follow between the Turkish and Russian leaders. Russian President Putin orders financial sanctions against Turkey. Russian charter trips to Turkey are stopped, sales of tourist trips to Turkey are banned and imports of a number of Turkish goods are stopped. The ability of Turkish companies and individuals to conduct business in Russia is limited. In addition, Russia terminates an agreement with Turkey on visa-free travel for its citizens. (24/11)
The fight against the government’s enemies continues
Less than a day after the election, 44 suspected supporters of Fethullah Gülen are arrested in police raids in 18 provinces. Among the arrested are three former provincial governors and the former city chief Izmir’s former deputy chief of police. Turkish fighter aircraft also carry out new raids against PKK in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. In ground fighting near the Iraqi border, 15 guerrillas, two soldiers and one civilian are reported killed. The state also takes over the management of 19 Gülenan affiliated companies, a foundation and a trade union affiliated with the holding company Kaynak, which is close to the Gülen movement. Recently, the state has also forcibly taken over a bank and a media company with links to the Gülen movement, which is described by the government and courts as a terrorist organization.
The AKP wins big in parliamentary elections, but not enough
Despite harsh international and domestic criticism of an increasingly authoritarian regime, the AKP prevails in the recent elections to the parliament and receives about half the votes. In doing so, the party takes back the absolute majority of Parliament’s seats, which allows it to re-form government on its own (see June 2017). Secular CHPs get about a quarter of the vote. Both the pro-Kurdish HDP and the nationalist MHP back but pass the 10 percent barrier and remain in parliament. The mandate distribution gives AKP 317 seats (up from 258 in June), CHP 134 (132), HDP 59 (80) and MHP 40 (80). The figures suggest that the government and the president succeeded in their quest to scare away voters from the HDP and attract nationalist voters from Kurdish hostile MHPs.In a report following the election, the OSCE addresses harsh criticism of the election campaign, which is described as characterized by unfair conditions and fear (1/11)
Critical EU report is kept secret
Also, just days before the election, the Reuters news agency reports that a so-called secretly-stamped EU report on Turkey is facing strong criticism of how the legal community is being eroded, freedom of expression is being reduced and the political control of the courts is increasing. The publication has been delayed as a result of the election, but a copy has been leaked to Reuters. The European Commission is also said to imply criticism of President Erdoğan personally for attempts to exercise power not supported by the Constitution.
Police council against Gülenan affiliated companies
Only four days before the parliamentary elections, police raids 22 companies with links to the Gülen movement, including newspapers and TV stations. The state takes over the management of the companies and appoints new managers. The EU comments that the fears against the mass media are particularly alarming and appeals to the Turkish government to respect media freedom.
EU-Turkey cooperation on refugee management
The EU says that the Union has agreed with Turkey on cooperation to curb the flow of refugees from Turkey to Europe. Under the agreement, Turkey would promise to try to stop human trafficking, cooperate with the European border authorities and prevent Syrians from accessing Europe via Turkey. In exchange, visa requirements for the EU would be alleviated for Turkish citizens and Turkey would receive unspecified financial support to take care of the refugees in the country. But shortly after the agreement was announced in Brussels, the Turkish government says that the EU has offered too little money and that the EU is not taking Turkey’s membership application seriously. During a visit to Istanbul, German Chancellor Merkel suggests that Turkey’s membership negotiations could be accelerated if the country helps slow down the refugee stream.
Terrorist attack against peace demonstration
Turkey is shaken by an act of terror described as the worst in modern times. Around 100 people are killed and 250 injured when two suicide bombers strike in connection with the gathering of people for a peace demonstration in Ankara. The protest, organized by leftist groups, would target the ongoing war against the PKK. IS suspected to be behind it. The PKK says shortly after the attack in Ankara that a ceasefire is announced. (10/10)
Support manifestation for the war against PKK
Over 100,000 people take part in a demonstration in Istanbul in support of the Turkish state’s war against the PKK, described by the government as a “fight against terror”. The keynote speaker is President Erdoğan, who gives the manifestation features of a general election before the November parliamentary elections.
Criticism against critical media
Prosecutors are launching an investigation into the large media group Doğan who is accused of “terrorist propaganda” for its way of monitoring the armed conflict between the security forces and the PKK. Doğan owns, among other things, the magazine Hürriyet and the TV channel CNN Türk. One day earlier, the police carry out a scare against the magazine Nokta since it published a satirical picture montage where President Erdoğan takes a “selfie”, a photo of himself, during a soldier’s funeral. The entire edition of the magazine is seized on the order of a prosecutor. Three foreign journalists, two British and one Dutch, are also expelled after allegations of conspiracy with the PKK since they reported from the fighting in south-east Turkey.
Civilian Kurds are killed in fighting
According to government sources, at least 30 people have been killed in connection with fighting between government forces and the PKK in the city of Cizre in southeastern Turkey. According to HDP, 20 civilians have lost their lives. Some analysts believe that the AKP government’s military offensive against PKK sympathizers in the city should be seen as a revenge for 85 percent of Cizre’s residents voting for the HDP in the June elections. A group of HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and several MPs must have been prevented by police from entering the city. The HDP delegation aims to draw attention to the situation in the area. After nine days, the curfew was lifted in Cizre while the army chased “terrorists” in the city.
Attack on Kurdish Party
Several of the pro-Kurdish party HDP’s premises are being attacked in different parts of the country. Reports come about that government-friendly activists set fire to both the HDP office in Ankara and that in Alanya. Even the Hürriyet magazine in Istanbul is also subjected to stone throwing after criticism was made that President Erdoğan was misquoted in the newspaper.
New elections are announced
President Erdoğan announces new elections until November 1. The government negotiations have previously been stranded as the AKP and the chemist CHP could not agree on the conditions for government cooperation and nationalist MHP refuses to support a continued AKP-led minority government without passing through its demands. The Pro-Kurdish left-wing party HDP has declared itself ready to participate, despite the president accusing the party of taking orders from the PKK with which the state is at war. Erdoğan has always been assumed to want a new election in the hope of the country being able to return to single-party rule. After a few days, the president approves a provisional government to lead the country until the new election. It includes two representatives of HDP, but they leave after just over three weeks. (24/8)
The army strikes against both IS and PKK
Two days after the attack in Suruç, Turkish aircraft bombs IS bases in Syria for the first time. During the remainder of the month, around 1,000 police raids are seized across the country, targeting both PKK and IS. Turkish military attacks both IS and PKK positions with artillery fire across the border to both Syria and Iraq. The government gives the US-led alliance the right to use Turkish air bases.
Terrorist acts against Kurdish cultural center
At least 32 people are killed and about 100 injured in a suicide attack outside a cultural center in the city of Suruç, a mile from the Syrian border, opposite the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobane. IS says it is behind the act that is triggering protests in several Turkish cities against what the protesters, mainly Kurds, see as the Turkish state’s reluctance towards IS. (20/7)
PKK cancels ceasefire
The PKK said to formally cancel the ceasefire that officially prevailed since March 2013. The announcement transmitted to a Kurdish news agency of the umbrella organization KCK accusing the Turkish government of having used the truce to build military posts, roads with military purposes and dams as “aimed at cultural genocide “. PKK threatens via KCK to attack all the dams in southeastern Turkey.
Government formation is delayed
Only just over a month after the parliamentary elections, President Erdoğan gives Prime Minister Davutoğlu the task of trying to form a new government. The opposition has criticized the president for delaying the formation of government to try to keep the AKP’s position of power as long as possible. But none of the other parties has indicated any willingness to join a coalition government. Some speculate that Erdoğan and the AKP are in fact happy to see it being elected. A government must be formed within 45 days.
Relatively poor choice for AKP
After a troubled run-up to the parliamentary elections, the election day ends relatively calmly. When the result comes, it turns out that the AKP is backtracking, receiving only 41 percent of the vote (317 seats) and losing the majority of the votes held by the party since 2007. This puts an end to Erdogan’s plans to introduce presidential government and continue to govern the country himself. indefinitely. HDP gets 13 percent (80 seats), while CHP gets 25 percent (132 seats) and MHP 16 percent (80 seats). (7/6)
Conflict over the mass killing of Armenians in 1915
The world description of the mass killings of Armenians and other Christians in the Ottoman Empire as ” genocide ” provokes vigorous protests in Turkey. The government submits a protest to the Vatican City for Pope Francis to use the word and calls his ambassador for “consultations”. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament adopts a resolution calling on the Turkish government to recognize the mass killing in 1915 as a genocide, accusing the EU of trying to “rewrite history” and racism, as the suffering of Muslim Turks during the First World War is disregarded. President Erdoğan condemns the leaders of France, Germany and Russia for “supporting Armenian lies”.
The opposition leader is fined
Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is convicted of fining 10,000 lira, just over SEK 33,000, for insulting the current President Erdoğan in a speech in 2013. Erdoğan’s lawyers had pleaded for ten times the amount.
Sentenced officers in “Operation sledge” are completely freed
A court acquits all 298 military officers who were previously convicted of participating in a coup attempt in 2003, “Operation Slaughter” (see September 2012). They were previously sentenced to long prison terms, but the Constitutional Court later rejected the evidence presented by prosecutors. The case took a new turn after the rift between the ruling party AKP and the mildly Islamist Gülen movement. The trial was subsequently described as being manipulated by supporters of the Gülen movement. The AKP benefited greatly from the influential movement to come to power and then be able to reduce the power of the military and state bureaucracy, but following corruption charges against the government in 2013, the AKP has declined.
The police are given increased powers
Parliament adopts a large number of laws that strengthen police powers to intervene against protesters and to use firearms against civilians; Among other things, the police can also keep people arrested for up to two days without the prosecutor’s approval. Protesters who, for example, carry some kind of weapon, mask their face or shout out banned slogans can be sentenced to up to five years in prison. The debate on the legislative proposals has been very fierce and triggered a fight in Parliament. The opposition is accusing the government of taking Turkey a step towards becoming a police state. Strong criticism also comes later from the Council of Europe.
ACP disagreement on corruption charges
Parliament, strongly dominated by the ruling party AKP, is voting as expected to close down the cases of four corruption suspected former ministers. But dozens of AKP members unexpectedly go against the party line and vote for the ex-ministers to stand trial. At least 48 AKP members want to prosecute former EU minister Egemen Bağış. The voting results indicate an unexpected crack in the party ahead of the parliamentary elections later in the year.
Left-wing extremist assaults
The Prohibited Left Extreme Movement The People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front / Party (DHKP-C) is taking on two attacks in central Istanbul. A policeman is killed and one is injured when a female suicide bomber detonates an explosive charge inside a police station in the middle of the tourist area near the Blue Mosque. The attack is said to be revenge for a 15-year-old boy being killed during protests against the government in 2013. Some members of the movement are also trying to detonate a hand grenade outside the building where President Erdoğan previously held his office.
Corruption within the government is silenced
A parliamentary committee decides that four suspected corruption ministers should not be prosecuted before the Constitutional Court. The decision follows the party lines completely. All the representatives of the ruling AKP release the men, while all the representatives of the opposition want to prosecute them. All prominent members of the AKP now endorse President Erdogan’s view that the corruption charges against the government were an attempt at a coup d’état.