Istanbul – Round-Table Conference on Freedom of Religion in Turkey and the EU member states

5 February 2014
Conference participants. Photo: Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation
Conference participants. Photo: Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation

According to Article 2 of the Turkish constitution, "The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law". However, the Turkish version of secularism is very peculiar. A state institution, the Diyanet, controls and organizes the majority religion Islam in its Sunni confession and Hanefi lawschool. For other confessional (Shafi, Caferi) or religious communities (Alevi, Christians, Jews, Ezidi) there is no possibility of acquiring direct legal personality as a religious community. The only possibilities are to organize as foundations (in the category of minority foundations and new foundations) and associations, but not as religious communities, which causes many legal problems.

This situation has been criticized by the European Commission in numerous progress reports and by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. It puts Turkey in a unique position in the Council of Europe.

At this moment it seems more urgent than ever to make progress on this, both to improve the situation of Turkey's Christians and to make real progress on accommodating Alevi concerns in the wake of the recent polarisation.

This has never been more important than now, as sectarian tensions spread in the Middle East and as there are rising concerns about Turkey in many European capitals.

The conference, jointly organised with and funded by the Swedish Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation, aimed to discuss concretely possible European models that Turkey could refer to on the issue of freedom of religion, looking into forms of legal organization of religious communities in selected EU member states.


  • Prof. Samim Akgönül, Professor, Université de Strasbourg, Researcher, Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique
  • Prof. Cengiz Aktar, Senior Scholar, Istanbul Policy Center
  • Dr. Maya Arakon, Associate Professor, Süleyman Şah University
  • Ms. Nefin Dinç, Film maker and producer of "The Other Town"
  • Ms. Yonca Poyraz Doğan, Journalist, Today's Zaman
  • Ms. Marina Drymalitou, Project Coordinator and Researcher, "Minority Citizens – Equal Citizens" at the Association for the Support of Greek Community Foundations, Turkey
  • Amb. Olof Ehrenkrona, Senior Advisor to the Foreign Minister, Sweden
  • Dr. Thornike Gordadze, Associate Professor, Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, Former State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration, Georgia
  • Mr. Thomas Cumhur Gür, Senior Advisor, Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation
  • Ms. Nigâr Göksel, Editor-in-Chief, Turkish Policy Quarterly
  • Mr. Gerald Knaus, Chairman, European Stability Initiative 
  • H.E. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Metropolitan of Bursa and Exarch of Bithynia, Associate Professor, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
  • Dr. Élise Massicard, Editor-in-Chief, Observatoire de la Vie Politique Turque
  • Dr. Herkül Millas, Author, Columnist, Today's Zaman
  • Dr. Raoul Motika, Director, Orient-Institut Istanbul
  • Ms. Efpraxia Nerantzaki, Research Associate, Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East and Islamic Studies, University of Peloponnese
  • Amb. Jens Odlander, Consul General, Consulate General of Sweden, Istanbul
  • Mr. Jonathan Olsson, Senior Project Manager, Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation
  • Ms. Ekin Ozbakkaloglu, Junior Fellow, European Stability Initiative
  • Dr. Kerem Öktem, Research Fellow, European Studies Centre, Oxford
  • Dr. Bilal Sambur, Associate Professor, Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Director, Center for the Study of Religion and Liberty
  • Mr. Kristoffer Tamsons, Chief of Staff, Moderate Party in Stockholm County Council
  • Amb. Temuri Yakobashvili, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Former Deputy Prime Minister, Georgia
  • Mr. Piotr Zalewski, Freelance Journalist, Time Magazine and Foreign Policy
  • Mr. Ragıp Zık, Board Member, BABIL Association         
  • Ms. Ümran Üçbaş, Research Assistant, Süleyman Şah University
  • Amb. Lars Wahlund, Embassy of Sweden, Ankara
  • Mr. Laki Vingas, Council Member, Directorate General of Foundations, Turkey
  • Ms. Katarina Wallberg, Deputy Director for Projects, Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation

The conference is by invitation only

Gerald Knaus on religious freedom in Turkey