Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Turkey

Published: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 76,805,500; Members, 221; Branches, 4;Percent LDS, .0003, or 1 LDS in 347,536; Europe East Area.

Located in Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, Turkey was created in 1923 after the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. Turkey is a parliamentary democracy. It is 99.8 percent Muslim and .02 percent other, mostly Christians and Jews. Turkish citizens enjoy religious freedom though there are some restrictions imposed on non-Muslim religious groups.

In early 1884, Hadop T. Vartooguian, an Armenian living in Constantinople wrote to the European Mission asking about the Church. In response, Jacob Spori was sent to Constantinople, arriving 31 December 1884. On 4 January 1885, Vartooguian, his wife, Philimae, and their two children, Sisak Vartoo and Armais, were baptized. Spori went to work sharing the gospel, finding most of his success among non-natives, including Armenians.

The first meeting was held in Vartooguian's apartment on 18 January 1885. Other missionaries soon followed including Joseph M. Tanner who gained an audience with Nunif Pasha, Minister of Public Instruction. Pasa showed a great interest in Tanner's message. Efforts to expand the work beyond Constantinople, particularly to Armenians living in the interior, however, were continually turned down.

One of the converts of the time was Mischa Markow who joined the Church in Constantinople 1 February 1887. Markow became the first to conduct missionary work in many central European countries.

In May of 1888, Ferdinand F. Hintze tried to hold meetings in Turkish, but due to the poor response the meetings were soon discontinued. By August of 1888, Hintze was able to travel to the interior and meet with several Armenians who had requested information about the Church. In Sivas, more than 100 people called at the home of Dekran Shahabian, where Hintze stayed for a few days, to learn more about the Church.

The greatest missionary success occurred at Aintab. Missionaries arrived there in April 1889 and soon thereafter, a branch was established. On 14 November 1895, as unrest commenced between Turks and Armenians, missionaries were evacuated. They returned 1 March 1898. A school was established in the fall of 1898 at Aintab so that Latter-day Saint students could study free from persecution.

The Book of Mormon was translated into Turkish in 1906 and shipped to Constantinople, but it was delayed by customs and did not reach the missionaries serving in Turkey until late 1908. On 28 July 1909, Wilford Booth, president of the Turkish Mission, received word that due to increasing violence in the region, the mission should be closed. Booth and the missionaries left shortly thereafter.

On 7 November 1921, Wilford Booth arrived in Aleppo, Syria, to re-establish the mission. At that time, conflict over the area in and around Aintab prompted Booth to seek the evacuation of Church members and some investigators who still resided in Aintab. Booth was able to negotiate with the French military for nine wagons to evacuate the members from Aintab. Upon their arrival on 16 September 1921 in Aleppo, Syria, the refugees were rebaptized because their membership records had been lost during the years of war and upheaval.

The evacuation of this group marked the end of missionary work in Turkey. (See the Armenia history for additional information regarding Armenians evacuated from Turkey.)

In the 1950s, as U.S. military presence increased in Turkey, Latter-day Saint servicemen began to hold meetings in groups in cities throughout the country including Istanbul, Adna, Izmir, and Ankra. These branches were organized and then closed as U.S. military presence was reduced at the end of the Cold War. A few small units still function in scattered locations. In the 20th and 21st centuries there has been no concerted effort to conduct missionary work among native Turks.

There were 151 members in 2003.

Sources: Rao H. Lindsay, A History of the Missionary Activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Near East, 1884-1929, thesis, 1958; Turkish Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Kahlile Mehr, Mormon Missionaries Enter Eastern Europe, 2002; Swiss Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Reuben Ouzunian, A short history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Middle East, Church Archives; French Mission, Servicemen's group record of members, 1958-1959, Church Archives; Servicemen's Group (Ankara, Turkey) Primary minutes and attendance record, 1959-1961, Church Archives; Austria Vienna East Mission, Annual history and historical reports, Church Archives.