On Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that all of its missionaries and volunteers in Turkey will leave the country due to increasing political tensions.
“Due to a prolonged period of heightened political tensions in Turkey, all of our volunteers serving in that country have been temporarily reassigned,” the Mormon Church announced in a press release. “This includes 20 young men, 4 young women and 5 senior couples. They will be temporarily reassigned to other regions in Europe, Asia, and North America. Additionally, four volunteers who are nearing the end of their service will return home.”
The Church cited safety concerns in making this announcement. “The safety of our volunteers is a primary concern for the Church, and we work diligently to monitor conditions and make adjustments as needed in an effort to promote their safety,” the statement explained.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pushed his country in a more Islamist direction in recent years, reversing the secular revolution enshrined by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In October 2016, Erdoğan turned the historic Christian church the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul back into a mosque after 80 years as a museum.
Erdoğan faces a presidential election on June 24, and tensions are expected to rise until that date.
Erdoğan’s challengers allege he moved up the elections from November 2019 to obtain more power, while he argued that the uncertainties in Syria necessitated an earlier election. Erdoğan has also faced criticism that the attempted coup of July 2016 was truly orchestrated from within his government to give him more power.
Finally, in light of the collapse of Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), the Kurds attempted to set up their own state in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. This has inspired a great deal of civil strife between the Turkish government and this particular minority group.
Last year, Erdoğan won an allegedly rigged referendum to change Turkey’s government into an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister. This change will come into full implementation after the presidential election.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last pulled missionaries and volunteers from Turkey in July 2016, citing unstable conditions, including the attempted coup.
According to Mormon Newsroom, there are 547 Latter-day Saints in Turkey, attending eight congregations.
Andrew Brunson, an American Christian pastor in Turkey, has been imprisoned and faces charges of terrorism.
This January, the Christian organization Open Doors ranked Turkey the 31st worst country in the world for the persecution of Christians in 2017. According to their report, Christians are barred from state jobs and experience discrimination in private employment. Turkey is merely one of many countries across the world where Islamic oppression drives persecution of Christians.
While most Christians would not consider a Mormon to be Christian, the Muslim leaders in Turkey likely see little difference, and consider each Mormon a foreign influence in the country.