Hundreds of Christians who secretly converted in Iran seek asylum in Turkey, claiming persecution

Christians pray inside an underground church in Iran.(World Watch Monitor)

Some 500 Christian converts from Iran have sought asylum in Turkey following persecution by the authorities, according to the Middle Eastern news website Rudaw.

Rudaw published a video from Van in Turkey, close to the Iranian border, in which Kurdish Christian converts refused to appear on camera or reveal their names, with one man and his family who converted to Christianity from Islam saying that they used to practise their faith in secret.

In Iran, 'there is not an accurate figure to say how many people have become Christians because everything is secret,' he said. 'When a Muslim converts to Christianity, they do so in secret. Rituals are secret since they are in danger...ours was secret, too.'

Another young man who converted only after he arrived in Van said that he did not think he could be the person he wanted to be if he remained Muslim. He added that he is now feeling 'comfortable' as a Christian.

And another said Iran is punishing many Kurds with the death penalty, although many of them share the same religion.

He claimed that hundreds of Kurdish youth in Iran have abandoned Islam and embraced Christianity.

'I changed my religion because I did not see anything in Islam. Whatever I saw was wrong,' he said.

'It is a fact that the government of Iran is an Islamic one, yet our youth are getting executed. In Iraq the same,' he continued. 'There is ISIS and [they] are killing people in the name of Islam, and there are vulnerable people who are being beheaded there. They have fled to Turkey, and we came to Turkey. That is why I did not see any good from Islam.'

According to Rudaw, there are around 1,500 Kurdish asylum seekers in Van, some of whom cite political, ethnic, or cultural reasons as their reasons to leave Iran, alongside the nearly 500 of them who have converted to Christianity.

The majority of those who spoke to Rudaw said they wanted to go to the US, Canada or Europe.

The majority of Iranian Kurds follow Sunni Islam, while the majority in Iran are Shiites.

Open Doors USA says that Iran considers Christianity to be a 'western influence', adding: 'Converts to Christianity from Islam make up the largest group of Christians and experience the most persecution.'

The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Tehran, Ramzi Garmou, told AFP in December that people are grateful that they live in peace in the country as opposed to the rest of the Middle East.

'Thanks to God, we really live in peace and security, but our neighbours live in anguish and violence,' he said.