Turkey Crackdown Turns On US Christians, Analysts Warn

Turkey has turned on US Protestants in its post-coup crackdown, analysts have warned.

President Erdogan has targeted American Christians in retaliation over the White House's refusal to comply with Turkey's demands and extradite cleric Fethullah Gülen. The Pennsylanvia-based preacher was a former ally but the Turkish President has now blamed him for the failed uprising in July.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters after the coup at Friday prayers in Ankara, Turkey.Reuters

Erdogan has unleashed a backlash against perceived opponents in response to the coup, using it as a basis to arrest tens of thousands of Turkish citizens and fire many more from public sector jobs.

Now researchers have warned his focus has turned on American Christians.

"Protestant or Christian churches are seen as an American influence, and now that Turkey is anti-American they are being targeted even more," said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament, according to RNS.

Erdemir was speaking after US pastor and long-term Turkish resident Ryan Keating was detained at Istanbul airport while trying to re-enter after a short trip out of the country.

Keating was told he could never come back. No reason was given and there was no evidence. He was held in a cell overnight at Istanbul airport and interrogated by anti-terror police. Then he was told he was a threat to national security and forced aboard the next plane out the country.

In an interview with Christian Today shortly after his arrest in October, Keating said this kind of treatment of Christians in Turkey was "typical".

While doing a PhD in philosophy of religion at Ankara University, Keating set up Ankara Refugee Ministry (ARM), which provides food, shelter and clothing to 6,000 refugee families. Run out of Kurtulus Church, one of Turkey's largest evangelical churches, which the Keatings attend, ARM also offers English classes and career training for a handful of Turkey's 2.7 million refugees.

Ryan Keating with his young children in Turkey

He told Christian Today: "There has been some ways in which Turkey has given increased freedom to religious minorities. But there are other incidents of arbitrary discrimination and this is one of them.

"There is no evidence or justification for why I have been banned. I know I haven't done anything illegal ever in Turkey. We are very careful to obey the laws. We have done nothing to threaten or do harm to Turkey in any way.

"There has been no investigation, no evidence, just an arbitrary ban. And to use this blanket 'threat to national security' – what does that even mean? What are they suggesting I have done or would do?"

He said since the coup "there has been an atmosphere of tension and fear and suspicion" in Turkey.

Turkey's constitution is technically secular but 99 per cent of the population is Muslim. The rights of minorities are severely limited according to the US State Department's religious freedom report.