Brigham Young University

The first missionary labors of the Church in the modern Middle East were initiated in Turkey, the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, in 1884. The ensuing years of mission history were marked by constant interruptions and by the suffering of members and missionaries as the fledgling Church attempted to cope with the political and economic turbulence of the times.

Jacob Spori, the first full-time Latter-day Saint missionary in the Middle East, arrived in Istanbul on 31 December 1884 to open the Turkish Mission. Less than a week later, on 4 January, he baptized the first converts to the Church—an Armenian man, Hagop Vartooguian, and his family. Finding little interest among Turks or Europeans in Istanbul, the missionaries moved inland and began to establish branches of the Church in the Armenian Christian communities of central and southern Turkey: Zara, Sivas, Maras, and Gaziantep (Aintab). Aintab eventually became one of the largest branches in the mission, and, until 1907 when the mission headquarters was moved to Aleppo, Syria, it was a center of Church activity and administration. In 1890 a Latter-day Saint missionary, Edgar D. Simmons, died of smallpox and was buried in Aintab. The membership of the Turkish Mission was comprised mainly of Armenians from central Turkey and northern Syria, but also a few European and Arab converts in other parts of the mission, including Palestine, Greece, Egypt, and Lebanon.

The mission was closed in 1896 when political conflict in Turkey threatened the members and missionaries, but it was reopened in 1897. President Ferdinand Hintze finally received permission from the Ottoman government in 1899 to publish the first Latter-day Saint literature, and missionary tracts and 28 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were printed in several languages. Another milestone was achieved in 1906 when Hintze succeeded in having the first Turkish language/Armenian script Book of Mormon published in Boston. The mission was closed again in 1909 due to increasing political turmoil in Turkey.

When Joseph Booth, president of the newly named Armenian Mission, returned to Turkey in 1921 following World War I, he found that many of the members had been killed or deported during the war and that those who had managed to survive were suffering from poverty, disease, and hunger. In December 1921, Booth arranged with the French authorities (who controlled southern Turkey and Syria in the postwar period) to evacuate Latter-day Saint members of the Church from Aintab to Aleppo, where they could be given proper care and protection. After this exodus, which subsequently was celebrated by the Armenian Saints as one of the great events in Church history, only a few scattered members were left in Turkey, and the Church shifted the focus of its activities to Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Since the closure of the Near East Mission in 1951, Church branches with mostly expatriate members have been organized intermittently in Turkey at Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Izmir, and Sinop. At the end of 1997 there were about 200 members.

[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 69,660,000; Members, 167; Branches, 4; Percent LDS, .0002, or one LDS in 440,886; Europe East Area; Source: 2007 Church Almanac.]

SOURCES

“Correspondence, 1932-1955.” Near East Mission. LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.

“History.” Palestine-Syrian Mission. LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.

Lindsay, Rao H. “A History of the Missionary Activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Near East, 1884-1929.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1958.

“Manuscript History.” Turkish Mission. LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.

“Papers of Joseph Wilford Booth.” Special Collections and Manuscripts. Brigham Young University Library, Provo, Utah.

JAMES A. TORONTO

From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1260-62. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.