Atheism on the Rise in Turkey
Despite Erdogan’s measures to push Islam, a growing number of people in Turkey are non-religious.
by Scott Jacobsen
There has been a continuous growth in the number of non-religious people in the Turkey, a dramatic development in the theocratic state known for working to keep evolution out of the classrooms.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to push theocratic politics, but the rise in atheism would call into question the effectiveness of the measures he has been imposing.
As reported, “According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists. Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.”
The official directorate of religious affairs in Turkey, Diyanet, declared in 2014 that 99% of the Turkish public identifies as Muslim. However, in light of the recent survey data from Konda, this has sparked debated within the country.
Ahmet Balyemez, a 36-year-old computer scientist, states, “There is religious coercion in Turkey… People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam?… When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam… Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me.”
Cemil Kilic, a theologian, considers both statistics correct: 99% of Turks may identify as Muslim, but only do so from a cultural or sociological perspective.
He states, “The majority of Muslims in Turkey are like the Umayyads, who ruled in the seventh century… The prayers contained in the Koran reject injustice. But the Umayyads regarded daily prayer as a form of showing deference towards the sultan, the state and the powers that be… Regular prayers have become a way to signal obedience toward the political leadership… And prayers in mosques increasingly reflect the political worldview of those in power.”
President Erdogan has been in power for almost 16 years, as prime minister until 2014 and then as president onwards.
Ateizm Dernegi, the central organization for atheists in Turkey, has, through its leader, Selin Ozhoken, stated that the desire by Erdogan to produce devout Muslims has, in fact, failed in a number of ways.
Dernegi explains, “Religious sects and communities have discredited themselves… We have always said that the state should not be ruled by religious communities, as this leads to people questioning their faith and becoming humanist atheists.”