Turkey’s “First Christian”
Amidst news of Turkey’s political turmoil — a parliamentary boycott led by the main opposition party has overshadowed the June 12th election victory of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP), and the Turkish political system faces a stalemate — a key development has almost gone unnoticed. On June 12th, the Turks elected the country’s first Christian deputy, Mr. Erol Dora, to the Ankara parliament (Meclis), literally making him Turkey’s “First Christian.”
Mr. Dora’s election to the Turkish Meclis is a true breath of fresh air. Not counting a handful of Christians who were allocated legislative seats in the twentieth century due to legal quotas, Mr. Dora is the first Christian deputy elected to sit in the Ankara legislature.
This is big news. Christians represent just 1/1000 of the country’s population. In a symbolic move, Muslim Turks have chosen to elect a Christian Turk to represent them.
This development presents an opportunity for Turkey to come to terms with its rich Christian heritage. Moreover, it signals that the country’s opposed camps, clustered around the conservative AKP and its liberal-secular opponents in an almost homogenously Muslim Turkey, can learn to live together under a liberal roof.
The first element of symbolism in Mr. Dora’s election is that he has de facto become the “First Christian” in Turkey, which was, as many say, “the first country in history to have a Christian majority.”
Since Jesus, Turkish Christians have dwindled in numbers and the country’s Christian heritage has weathered a tumultuous and debilitating period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, with Mr. Dora in the Meclis, Christian heritage in Turkey has found voice, as well as a reminder of the country’s thriving, and once dominant, Christian past.
However, the symbolism of Mr. Dora’s election does not stop there.
Soner Cagaptay is Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University.