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Turkish Views on Christians: Implications for Armenian-Turkish Relations

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Samuel Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilizations that a principal cultural fault line is to be found between the Muslim world and the Western non-Muslim world. In this context it is not surprising that the Christian West often assumes Muslims to be suspicious or even hostile towards Christians. Periodic cases of anti-Christian public statements and actions support this impression and are indicative of profound inter-religious tensions. This notion also influences the relations between peoples and nations. In the South-Caucasian case, the Armenian-Turkish relations are affected most by this phenomenon. When conflicts arise, religion plays a role in the perception of the Other. What is needed, therefore, is more inter-religious understanding on all societal levels. Although politics play a key role in establishing friendly ties between nations, it is the grassroots of the population upon which fruitful relations stand and which secure a more consistent quality to the results of political efforts. When considering Turkish views on Christians, field research indicates that the average Turk harbours an overall benevolent view of Christians and, therefore, that there exists considerable potential for successful inter-religious dialogue. Christians are generally regarded with respect, and most Turkish participants showed little to no negative attitudes towards them. The Christians of Turkey, notably Armenians and Greeks, were, furthermore, perceived as part of Turkey's society. The reason for these predominantly positive attitudes may be sought in the institutional incorporation of Christians and Jews into the broader context of Islamic society or, more inherent to Turkish history, in the positive remembrance of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic face of the Ottoman Empire—and thus in the appreciation of religious diversity as an asset and historical obligation.

Affiliations: 1: Orient-Institut Istanbul

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