Photo Credits: Novasia
According to the government, 99.8% of the Turkish population is Muslim while other sources have given estimates ranging from as much as 96.4 percent to as low as 82 percent. Irreligion in Turkey is a relatively small minority, although precise estimates of the share of deists, atheists, and agnostics in the population vary.
The first Turkish Atheism Association has been officially founded in 2014, becoming a legal address in an effort to stand up for the rights of atheists in the country. They were trying to make it easier for atheists to live in Turkey, to connect them and advocate for religious freedoms. Atheism Association called for the government to stop automatically designating every newborn child as “Muslim” on their birth certificates. Now the group has been forced to shut down due to outside pressure.
The Atheism Association was founded in 2014 and has 170 members. Only 12 of them attended the association’s general board meeting on Sunday after the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit gave details of the meeting beforehand by calling Barbaros Şansal —a Turkish fashion designer and one of the members of the organization — an enemy of Turkey and a person who insults Islam.
Şansal was expelled from Cyprus in 2016 and attacked by a mob on the steps of a passenger plane as he arrived at Istanbul airport after he posted a video on New Years Eve complaining about the government’s crackdown on journalists, sexual harassment against children, corruption, and rising extremism. “Drown in your shit, Turkey,” Şansal said in the video. Şansal was later arrested and imprisoned for two months.
Zeynep Ayça, the president of the Atheism Association said their members had stopped sending their membership fees and the financial burden of the organization had to be shouldered by a few people.
According to the Freedom of Thought Report, this ostensibly secular nation has government authorities who push a socially conservative, religiously inspired agenda, without regard to the rights of those with progressive views. Also, ‘blasphemy’ is outlawed or criticism of religion is restricted and punishable with a prison sentence. These are the main reasons why the Atheism Association must shut down.
The senior members of the organization also said that, though the number of atheists in Turkey was on the rise due to religious pressure and the failure of the rule of law in the country, there were not enough courageous atheists who could take the risk of working for the organization.