As civilisations succeeded each other over a period of 11,500 years, they each left their religious legacy and, after the monotheistic domination of Anatolia, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed in harmony.
ANY visitor to Turkey will be struck by the plethora and variety of religious buildings and ancient shrines. There are temples dedicated to ancient gods, churches of many denominations, synagogues and, of course, mosques. As civilisations succeeded each other over a period of 11,500 years, they each left their religious legacy and, after the monotheistic domination of Anatolia, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed in harmony.
The Hattians, Hittites, Hurrians, Urartians, Ionians, Lydians and Phrygians had rich mythologies. Greek mythology began with the Iliad, the epic poem of Homer who was himself a child of Anatolia. Homer was deeply influenced by the cultural environment of his motherland, in particular, by the legacy of the Mesopotamian civilisations.
Turkey is the land where the first Christian state, the Byzantine Empire, was founded – a state that lasted for 1000 years. This land was also a cradle of a great Islamic Empire that involved Turks and all Arabs. Anatolia was also the first home of Christianity and it is here that Christianity was no longer considered a Jewish religion. The Virgin Mary and the Apostle John are believed to have died in Ephesus. And it is in Antakya (Antioch) that the Disciples of Christ were called Christians for the first time.
This is also the land of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse and was the venue for the first seven councils. Christianity took root and thrived in Anatolia, where it found a historically intense religious and spiritual lifestyle. The population easily adopted the new religion preached by St Paul, St Barnabas, St Silas and St Timothy. The Church of Ephesus was founded in 54AD. By the second century, two dioceses had already come into existence, one in Kayseri and the other in Malatya. Cappadocia was Christianised long before Emperor Constantine accepted
Christianity as a legal religion. When monasticism started to expand rapidly, all those who longed for solitude or were escaping persecution found solace in the fantastic landscape of this region where they could settle in natural caves.
Later, Anatolia became the centre of religious schisms which characterized the early centuries of Christianity, in particular the great theological debate on the relation between the components of the Trinity and on incarnation.
Before adopting Islam Turks living in Central Asia, where they find their origins, followed Shamanism. They encountered Islam on the frontiers of Central Asia and adopted the religion in the tenth century. This religious shift was practised willingly. That’s another indicator that Turks bow down to nothing. Once the Ottoman Empire consolidated its power, it dedicated itself to the enhancement of the Islamic faith and values, though for centuries people of different religions or from different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully and harmoniously in Anatolia.
Religious freedom is accepted throughout the Republic of Turkey, just as it was during the Ottoman period. Although the majority of Turkish people continue to be deeply attached to the Islamic faith and traditions, they live side by side in harmony with their fellow citizens of different faiths, mainly the Christians and Jews – the legacy of Turkey’s centuries old diversity. As a natural outcome of centuries-long peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious identities, today Christian and Jewish shrines are preserved and respected in line with the Islamic tradition of tolerance. Today, there are more than 5000 sacred Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites in Turkey. As this is a country that has embraced peoples of diverse culture and faith during its long history, many of these religious places have been restored.
As a natural outcome of centuries-long peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious identities, today Christian and Jewish shrines are preserved and respected in line with the Islamic tradition of tolerance.