Church in Turkey Ordered to Close After 40 Years

Barnabas Fund News Service (BFS) reports that The New Testament Church in Iskenderun, Turkey, which has been meeting for almost 40 years, has been ordered to close. A two-page directive delivered by police on June 14 said the church must close immediately, because it has "no legal basis" and that its activities were harmful to society.

According to BFS, this Protestant church, located 25 miles from Antakya (ancient Antioch), began meeting in 1963. When its place of worship was torn down in 1970, they began meeting in the facilities of the local Armenian Orthodox Church. In 1995, they purchased their own facility and, in accordance to zoning regulations, informed the local authorities and all surrounding residents and shops. "None of them had any problem with this, and all of them signed the notarized forms giving their consent," said Pastor Yusuf Yasmin.

Without warning, a directive was given to Pastor Yasmin on June 14. According to a copy of the directive obtained by Compass Direct, the church was ordered to close "because your activities will incite religious, sectarian and dervish-order discrimination; will harm religious and national feelings; and will create offense in the society." The police order also stated that the location had not been approved in the municipal zoning plan. But in an indirect admission, the order states "there is no provision in our laws concerning the construction and use of 'places of worship.'"

While the Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion, according to BFS, there has been increasing pressure on Christians in this predominantly Muslim country. This action by the authorities is one more example of the challenges facing believers in this country where Christianity has had a strong presence since Paul first preached there.