In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the report, prepared by the bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), fails to acknowledge steps that Turkey has taken in recent years to protect religious freedoms and minority rights. “No impartial observer could take allegations in this report, which intentionally turns a blind eye to the steps forward and the political will that has constituted the basis for the reforms, seriously,” the statement said. “This report is null and void for us.”
The report grouped Turkey among 15 other nations in its “countries of particular concern” category for “systematic and egregious limitations” of religious freedoms. The ranking was a sharp downgrade from Turkey's less-severe status as a watch-listed country in years past.
The report also listed Tajikistan, Myanmar, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam in its “countries of particular concern” category.
The ministry also criticized the USCIRF for failing to examine growing Islamophobia in Europe, noting that the fundamental religious freedoms of Muslims in Europe are being called into question by certain politicians and that mosques are being attacked. It added that the USCIRF report focused on only “one religion” and that its motives were “purely political.”
The report itself has been followed by controversy after five members of the nine-member commission declared the document was published despite their objections to its release. Five members of the USCIRF initially agreed to group Turkey among “countries of particular concern,” but one of the commissioners, Don Argue, later changed his mind. Even though this changed the balance of votes, Argue's position is not reflected in the document released on Wednesday.
“This result is due to procedural issues which could have easily been accommodated, as there was ample time to reflect this change,” the five members who voted against grouping Turkey among countries of particular concern said in a statement on Wednesday. “We regret the failure of the Annual Report to accurately reflect the majority view of commissioners with respect to Turkey,” they said.
Turkey has taken steps in recent years to confront its long-standing legacy of minority discrimination, to broaden dialogue with non-Muslims, to repatriate confiscated property and to draft a new constitution with a broader definition of citizenship.
Namık Tan, Turkey's ambassador to Washington, had earlier responded to the report's criticism, saying, “Any unbiased eye will immediately realize that that's not where Turkey belongs in the USCIRF annual report.”
Turkey's population of nearly 75 million people, mostly Muslims, includes about 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians; 20,000 Jews; 15,000 Assyrians and about 3,500 Greek Orthodox Christians. The Turkish Parliament, which is in the process of collecting views from various groups with regards to a new constitution the country is currently drafting to free itself from the military-designed Constitution of 1982, has asked for the suggestions of religious minorities as well.