Turkish president's promise to rebuild churches in Syria are "a drug to numb the feelings of Christians" claims Syrian pastor

29 November 2019


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to help Syria's Christians rebuild their churches "so that they will be able to return to their lands and start praying there again." However, the promise does not convince a Christian pastor living in north-eastern Syria.


Pastor Samuel* believes that Erdogan’s words do not match Turkey’s treatment of Christians:

“In reality, you can see the massacres that the Turks have committed against Christians at different times until today, so why would he build a church while killing Christians? Why did he enter the area and destroy the churches in the first place? Even if these promises were true, why would that benefit me when he has caused everyone to leave the area?”

President Erdogan made the promise while speaking at the White House following his meeting with the US president, Donald Trump. He said his government has “plans” in place to help Syria’s Christian communities restore their churches damaged during Turkey’s military operation in north-eastern Syria.

Pastor Samuel, whose church gets support from Open Doors through a local partner, claims that Syria’s Christians are made to be part of “a game of political interests” of big states. He adds that based on previous experiences with Turkey, “trust is absent in this scenario.”

The pastor said:

“Almost no Christians have remained in Tal Abyad or Ras Al-Ain on the border with Turkey. What would the churches or cathedrals do if the people have fled, were killed or became homeless after their houses were destroyed? The president’s statement comes as a drug to numb the feelings of Christians against Turkey.”

Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland, has said:

“The promises will be viewed with scepticism unless the Turkish president starts treating his own nation’s Christians better.”

“It’s time that Turkey’s Christians were treated with respect and recognised for the part they play in wider Turkish life. The president may want to look closer to home if he is to become an advocate for the Christians in his nation and their heritage.”

The fate of Turkey’s Christian heritage is a worry for the country’s Christian community. A 4th-century Byzantine church is waiting for the Turkish government to decide whether it should be turned into a mosque.  A recent court judgement has affirmed the right of the government to decide.

It’s one of many Christian sites under threat in Turkey. Situated in Istanbul, Chora church was turned into a Muslim place of worship in the 15th century, then into a museum in the early 20th century and is one step away from turning into a mosque again.

Syria is number 11 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

*name changed for security reasons

Photos © Open Doors International.



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