I have traveled often in Turkey over the years and have been amazed by the contrast between the country and other Muslim nations. Modern Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I. This “empire,” the largest the world had ever seen, originated in Turkey but spread across the globe and spanned four centuries.
As a result of the Ataturk’s reforms, women in Turkey are not required to wear Islamic clothing; men often wear Western suits. The government functions as a parliamentary democracy where clerics have no political office (unlike Iran, for instance, where Shiite Supreme Leader Khamenei is the de-facto leader of the nation).
Today, however, many observers fear that the Western and democratic character of the nation is in jeopardy.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been prime minister of Turkey since 2002. Many believe that he is attempting to recreate the Ottoman Empire and assume a leadership position in the growing Islamist movement. Earlier in his career, he was openly critical of democracy and endorsed Islamic law. Since taking power, he has converted secular schools into religious schools. His political party spearheaded a law last month limiting when and where alcohol can be sold. And he has ended the ban on headscarves in universities that was put in place by the Ataturk.
Erdogan has clearly suppressed the freedom of the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other nation. And his actions regarding Israel are indicative of a clear turn toward Islamic extremism.
Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation to recognize the State of Israel and has maintained positive relations with the Jewish nation in the years since. However, in May 2010, a flotilla launched from Turkey was intercepted by Israeli forces, leading to a conflict that remains unresolved today. Turkey has disputed Israel’s claim to the Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean and protested its military operations in Gaza. Erdogan has called Israel a “terrorist state” that “massacres children,” and has described Zionism as “a crime against humanity.”
On Wednesday, protests against his government were ended by police. Activists reported that four people had been killed and 5,000 had been injured by previous police actions against the protests; 620 more were injured during the crackdown on Wednesday.
Why does this conflict matter to us?
George Friedman’s fascinating and controversial book, The Next 100 Years, predicts that Turkey will one day become the most powerful nation in the Islamic world. Turkey already possesses the second largest military in NATO, after America; its economy is the largest in the Muslim world.
Friedman predicts that Turkey’s leaders will one day seek to remove all Western influence from their region, aligning their nation with other powers in the next world war against America. None of this may come to pass, of course, but the recent unrest is food for thought.
Please join me in praying for a great spiritual awakening in Turkey, where the population is 99.2% Muslim. Ask the Holy Spirit to continue revealing Jesus to Muslims through dreams and visions. Pray for protection and courage for believers there as they make public their commitment to Jesus. And ask God to give our leaders wisdom as they respond to events in Turkey.
Turkey was one of the first mission fields in Christian history. Home to Saul of Tarsus, it was the land where much of his mission work was conducted. Galatians, Ephesians, and the seven letters of Revelation were all written to churches there. Let’s pray for modern-day Pauls as they extend the Kingdom to this ancient land, to the glory of God.