Christians in Turkey

© Heidemarie Seblatnig

Content Summary

This film aims at promoting intercultural dialogue, and discussing cultural change within a society in the process of Islamisation.

Based on sacred architecture in Turkey, we show how Christian churches have been converted into mosques in the course of cultural Islamisation.

These architectural experiences – which can never be divided from social ones – in regions of Turkey which had once been inhabited mainly by Christians, should contribute to breaking taboos and de-ideologising the topic of Islamisation.

The project thus opens topics about which there is no dialogue up to date – simply because many potential partners of that dialogue consider them as too delicate. However, the absence of dialogue on an intellectual level creates a void usually filled by extremist and populist doctrines.

Both the Turkish and the Austrian makers of the documentary wish to particularly contribute to the promotion of an intercultural dialogue concerning Turkey’s possible entry into the EU, which should not be treated as an exclusively political question.

During the 2005 Islam conference in Vienna, Patriarch Bartholomaios I of Constantinople stated that the situation of Christians in some Muslim countries was insecure and needed to “drastically improve in order for Christians and other minorities to enjoy the same rights and possibilities as Muslims do in Christian countries.” He stressed that the conflicts between Muslims and Christians originated not from matters of faith, but from political questions. According to him, religion had often been abused in order to sow enmity and to prod people to intolerance and fanaticism.

The documentary shows places where churches and mosques are situated in the neighbourhood, and places where Christian churches have been converted to mosques.
Based on architectural change, it shows the proximity of the respective positions concerning points of faith, whereas the arbitrary interpretation of such points under the hands of radical political forces is often abused to legitimise their fanaticism.

The documentary starts at the House of Mary in Ephesus/Efes, a place where Christians and Muslims pray and which is nowadays a Christian church.

Islam treats Mary with piety, for Catholic Christians she is “Mary Mother of God and Immaculate Virgin”, for all men she is mother.

Translating the dialogue presented here in an exemplary way, into our society, we can, by accepting to believe in higher values, approach the mutual understanding of the faith of the respective other. It thus becomes a desirable aim to respect the faith of the other and to love one’s own. For it is only by awakening the individual conscience of values transcending our immediate everyday needs, that they can penetrate social conscience. And that is the prerogative of successful intercultural dialogue.

Places with sacred architecture: Istanbul, Ephesos, Iskenderun, Smirna (Izmir) and  Antioch.