The U.S. State Department has criticized the Turkish government over its treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious minority groups in the country in a newly issued report.
The Turkish government “continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians,” the report titled "2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Turkey" said.
The report said that the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed and the “government continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.”
"Religious minorities again reported difficulties opening or operating houses of worship; resolving land and property disputes and legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated; holding governing board elections for their religious foundations; and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools," it said.
The report also expressed concern over Ankara's move to convert the famous Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum into a mosque last year.
It recalled that Bartholomew I had previously said, “The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world,” and that he had called for Hagia Sophia to remain a museum.
The report also expressed concern over the government's stance towards Alevis, saying: “Religious communities, particularly Alevis, continued to raise concerns regarding several of the government’s education policies.”
It said that the authorities continued not to comply with a 2013 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.
“Non-Sunni Muslims and nonpracticing Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives dealing with different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as Muslim,” it said.
The report also highlighted that the Turkish government rejected efforts to recognize Alevi gathering houses (cemevleri) as places of worship.
“The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim 'sect' and did not recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals that cemevis are places of worship,” it said.
Leaders of Alevi foundations estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the Turkish population, according to the report.