Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

GEORGIA: Religious discrimination with regard to military service

GEORGIA: Religious discrimination with regard to military service

Press release of the Tolerance and Diversity Institute: “The government adopted discriminatory and unconstitutional defense legislation”

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (23.09.2023) – On 21 September 2023, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the new Defense Code and related amendments to various laws in its third reading. The new legislation is unconstitutional, creates discrimination on the grounds of religion, and violates the constitutional principles of freedom of religion and belief, equality, the right to privacy and a fair trial.

  1. The new Defense Code and the Law on Non-Military, Alternative Labor Service provide that all clerics between the ages of 18 and 27 will be allowed to perform alternative, non-military labor service as an alternative to mandatory military service. However, this obligation does not apply to the clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who, based on the Constitutional Agreement, are exempt from all military obligations, including alternative service.
  2. According to the changes, all men between 18 and 60 will be automatically enrolled in the army reserve of the defense forces. An exclusive exception will apply to the clergy of the Orthodox Church because, according to the Constitutional Agreement, they are exempt from all military obligations.
  3. According to Article 97 of the new Defense Code, to record the Mobilization Reserve composition, information about a person’s religious affiliation will be entered into the electronic data system of the mobilization reserve. This will necessitate the collection of personal data about the religious affiliation of all men aged between 18 and 60. This information is, however, a sensitive special category of personal data.
  4. Therefore, the government made changes to the Georgian Law on Personal Data Protection (Article 6), which made the processing of special categories of personal data (including information about religious affiliation) permissible for the purposes of military or reserve services, as provided for by the new Defense Code.
  5. Amendments are also initiated to the Administrative Procedure Code. According to the planned changes, in cases in which court appeals are made against the decisions on the recruitment of conscripts to both national military service and to non-military, alternative labor service, the conscription will be suspended only until the decision of the district (city) court, i.e., for about a month. If the court of first instance considers that a person should undergo military service, this decision is subject to immediate execution.
  6. Along with these legislative changes, the authorities introduced new, rather alarming terminology, such as “dishonest” and “fictitious” religious organizations, which are used as the main argument to support these changes to the new defense code. It is true that this terminology is not written directly in the texts of the laws but is found in the Defense Code definition card and in public statements by the government. Nevertheless, the fact of using this kind of terminology in the legal and legislative field is alarming. This line of argument indicates that the state is instrumental in deciding which religious organizations are “fictitious” and which are “real.”

Due to the government’s discriminatory policy, freedom of religion and belief in Georgia has been grossly violated for years, and the situation is growing gradually worse:

  • The government interferes with the autonomy of religious communities and violates the constitutional principle of secularism;
  • The government examines the sphere of religion through the prism of assumed “security” rather than in the light of human rights. This is confirmed by the activities of the State Agency for Religious Issues, created in 2014 under the auspices of the Prime Minister, and by tens of thousands of leaked files of illegal monitoring-surveillance carried out by the State Security Service;
  • The Georgian Dream government has not taken any steps to eliminate from the legislation the existing discrimination based on religion;
  • On the contrary, it has adopted a number of legislative changes that further deepen the inequality between the Georgian Orthodox Church and all other religious organizations;
  • The authorities have done nothing for the restitution of historical property by the minority religious communities. On the contrary, the historical properties of these other religious denominations were transferred to the Georgian Orthodox Church;
  • The government illegally prevents minority religious communities from building new religious buildings.


Meanwhile, although the government’s policy towards religious communities is already discriminatory and repressive, the unconstitutional changes introduced by the new Defense Code cause even greater alarm. In addition to creating new areas of discrimination based on religion, the government wishes to collect specific personal information such as a person’s beliefs and religion. Similar methods are used by authoritarian regimes. 

Since the initiation of the Defense Code Bill, the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) has been actively urging Parliament not to pass the law in a way that would explicitly violate constitutional rights. For this purpose, the TDI repeatedly appealed to the authorities, participated in numerous meetings and consultations, and constantly called on opposition political parties and politicians to act against the alarming changes.

This issue was also protested against by the Council of Religions under the Public Defender, which urged the Parliament of Georgia not to adopt the bill as presented.

Unfortunately, the government still managed to pass the anti-constitutional Defense Code along with its accompanying legislative initiatives.

TDI will continue to work actively to change the anti-constitutional legislation that violates freedom of religion and religious equality.

TDI’s statements and assessments on the amendments to the defense code and related laws: 

Legislative amendments on the military service of clergy – assessment by TDI, February 2023 

TDI’s statement on the adoption of the first reading of the Defense Code, April 2023 (available in Georgian) 

The government continues to review discriminatory military legislation, July 2023

Further reading about FORB in Georgia on HRWF website

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

TURKEY: Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

By Uzay Bulut


Providence Mag (16.05.2022) – https://bit.ly/3wzUA49 – Only 0.1 percent of Turkey’s population is Greek, Armenian, or Assyrian Christian. The collapse of Turkey’s Christian communities is a result of decades-long persecution that includes genocideexpulsionspogroms, and official discrimination.

There is also a growing Christian demographic group in the country: Turkish converts to Christianity, many of whom converted to a Protestant church. This community has struggled with many problems, including a lack of official recognition by the government.

The “2021 Protestant Community Rights Violation Report” by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches lists the community’s challenges. According to the report, Protestant Christians in Turkey lack legal recognition as a church and a faith community, which severely restricts their freedom of religion and belief. They are often exposed to hate speech in the press or social media. Since they don’t have an official legal entity, they remain unable to establish their own places of worship or use existing church buildings for services. Thus, they try to use other buildings, which brings other problems with it. They also cannot open schools to train their religious personnel. Whenever foreign religious workers come to Turkey to serve the Protestant community, they face the risk of deportation.

As Protestant Christians cannot worship within their own churches, they try establishing associations or religious foundations or become a representative of other such groups. However, the government does not officially accept them as a “church” or a “place of worship.” The report explains:

Because members of the Protestant community are mostly new Christians, they do not have religious buildings that are part of their cultural and religious heritage like traditional Christian communities have in Turkey. The usable number of historical church buildings is very limited. Therefore, a large portion of the Protestant community tries to overcome the problem of finding a place to worship by establishing an association or religious foundation,or by gaining representative status with an existing association or religious foundation and then renting or purchasing a property such as a standalone building, shop or depot that has not traditionally been used for worship. A very small number have been able to build their own free-standing buildings. However, many of these premises do not have official status as a place of worship and therefore they are not officially recognized as a place of worship even though they are used that way. They cannot benefit from the advantages, or the conveniences given to an officially recognized place of worship, such as free electricity and water, as well as tax exempt status. When they introduce themselves to the authorities as a church, they receive warnings that they are not legal and may be closed down.


The inability to possess legal places of worship created serious challenges for the Protestant community during the past year. Some examples include:

  • The church building that is part of the Diyarbakır Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, which was turned over to the General Directorate of Foundations (despite objections and the need for a church worship place in Diyarbakir) was rented out to the Culture Ministry as a library on February 21, 2021.
  • Tekirdag Protestant Fellowship started activities as part of an association in July 2021. Even though they did not bother those around them, neighbors and others filed complaints to the municipality, the governor’s office, and the office of the president. As a result, the government is continually bothering the church, conducting inspections, and pressuring it to move from that region.
  • The members of the Protestant community who live in Arhavi in Artvin Province have rented a property and want to do repairs and renovations. The repairmen who took on this job could not work due to social pressure; the landlord terminated the rental contract for the same reason. The congregation continues to meet in members’ homes.

In addition, the Protestant community does not have the right to train its own religious personnel within the Turkish national education system. It also cannot open schools to provide religious education for the members of church communities.

Therefore, the Protestant community trains most of its religious personnel through seminars or apprentice training in Turkey. A small percentage obtains education at theology schools abroad. Presently there are not enough Turkish Protestant religious workers or leaders to meet the need of the growing Protestant community, so foreign pastors need to provide the spiritual guidance of some churches.

However, the Turkish government creates challenges regarding that as well. Many foreign religious workers and members of congregations have been deported, banned entry into Turkey, or denied residence visas, a situation beginning intensely in 2019 and continuing in 2021. Some Protestants who have lived in Turkey for years have been given entry bans for at least five years for “posing a general security threat.” The report elaborates:

In court cases opened to challenge this situation, the authorities have claimed that these people are pursuing activities to the detriment of Turkey, have taken part in missionary activities and that some of them have attended our Family Conference, which our Association has held annually for twenty years or other seminars and meetings that are similarly completely legal and transparent.


Another significant problem facing the Protestant community is the increase of hate speech in social media. The authors of the report write:

There has been a noticeable increase in hate speech filled with insults and profanity directed at official church accounts, church leaders, Christianity, Christian values and Christians in general originating from the activity of social media groups that cultivate hatred against Christians and have targeted Christian websites and social media accounts.

Social media has become the center of targeting, marginalization, degradation and all kinds of discrimination and has also become the media where corruption of information is the highest. Hate speech easily finds an arena in this platform.

These types of activities [on social media] directed at all Christian denominations and minority groups creates concern in the Protestant community.


For instance, Emin T., a church employee, and the Aydin Kurtulus Church itself were threatened with messages posted on Facebook by T.U., who lives in Bursa. The church employee filed a police complaint because the content of the messages included threats to kill Christians by decapitating them or through other means. Various people living in Aydin also posted other menacing messages. One person living in Aydin was arrested but soon released. The church has not received information from the legal authorities regarding any investigation.

The members of Artvin Arhavi Fellowship were subjected to written and digital attacks.  Later “certain people” harassed and pressured the landlord to evict them from his property. The district president of a political party also posted on social media statements such as “we will destroy them.” The leader of the fellowship met with the district president, who then feigned to be more reasonable. But the negative response posted on social media and even openly expressed in the streets continues. The church fellowship leader still hears disdainful words like “dead priest walking” when he strolls outside.

According to the 2021 report, members of the Protestant community, as well as non-Christians who work for Christian organizations, continue to receive offers to become informants. In many cities with Protestant congregations, people claiming to be intelligence officers who made such offers reportedly used threats, promises, benefits, or money to gain information about Christians, churches, church activities, and Christian organizations. People who were offered the role of informant gave this information to members of the Protestant community.

Ali Kalkandelen, the founding pastor of the Eurasia Protestant Communities Foundation and the president of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches, told Providence:

Protestant Christians have a legal existence problem. Turkish Protestant churches do not have a legal identity in the law. This situation creates many problems about our places of worship, our right to worship, religious workers, burial places, and proper representation in the protocols at government institutions, among others.  

Protestant places of worship are still not legally recognized and accepted in Turkey. All our attempts and efforts for official recognition have been in vain so far. In addition, nearly 70 foreign nationals with their families and approximately 10 Turkish citizens married to foreign nationals have been deported or face deportation on the grounds that they are engaged in missionary work, have founded a church, practice Christianity, or pose a “threat to national security.” While we find these accusations to be completely incomprehensible, malicious, and unacceptable, we also see them as an attempt to weaken the church.

In addition to this, there is a general misperception in society against the Protestant Christians that sees us as traitors, collaborators, sellout Turks, and enemies of religion, nation, and culture.


Pastor Kalkandelen says that “deliberate and massive pollution of disinformation in the media” is largely behind this misunderstanding. He elaborated:

Some written and visual media outlets make publications that spread this propaganda. Contents that call us or our places of worship names such as churches under the stairs, shop churches, apartment churches, sold out Turks, collaborators with foreign powers, or Turkish extensions of the crusaders are used by some media as a tool to increase their circulation. Publishing such content and showing our faith and worship in such hateful and untrue fashion is seen as “a national and spiritual value” by some media outlets. This kind of perspective unfortunately finds some approval among the general population. The public sees the Protestant Churches the way the media portrays us to be. As a result, such propaganda targeting and slandering our faith and churches has led to some protests, verbal taunts, the breaking of the signs, glasses, or crosses of our places of worship, and disrespectful writings on our church walls. Moreover, some Christians who have been actively serving in the church for years are still on death lists. State security measures have been taken to protect them.


Kalkandelen added:

Our most urgent need is the acceptance of the Protestant churches by Turkey on a legal basis with a sound definition and the provision of their representation rights as a legal entity. We also need the annulment of the court decisions against the Protestants, who are seen as a threat to Turkey’s national security and who have been deported or are about to be deported.


Soner Tufan, a member of the Board of the Association of Protestant Churches and its press and public relations officer, told Providence:

Having a legal entity would be a requirement that would meet most of the needs. Since we do not have a legal personality, we cannot build a church building, we cannot go beyond the mandatory religious classes at schools. We cannot create a solution to the issue of raising clergy. The fact that we as Protestant churches are not recognized as Turkish Christians deprives us of these rights.

If you ask municipal and government officials about Protestant Christians, they will say, “Of course, they have rights!” However, despite all our efforts, there is not a single building in Turkey which is registered as a Protestant church in the land registry with a signature of a governor and a district governor, nor a church which has legal personality in the last 20 years.


For comparison, there are around 85,000 mosques across Turkey that operate as part of the state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Meanwhile, Turkey has accelerated its campaign of opening mosques across the world, including in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.  Yet Turkey, which has a secular constitution, refuses to officially recognize the Protestant community, or to allow them to operate their own churches and freely share their faith with fellow citizens. At the same time, Turkey has converted many historic churches and monasteries into mosques, stables, warehouses, mess halls, ammunition stores, or private houses.

Turkey’s government officials falsely call democratic Western nations that respect religious liberty “Islamophobic,” but their own Christianophobia is seismic in scale.

Photo:Blue Mosque Istanbul cap-voyage.com


Notice: Undefined index: et_footer_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1395

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1395

Notice: Undefined index: et_footer_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1396

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1396

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1397