Mormon church reassigns volunteers serving in Turkey due to political unrest

(Emrah Gurel | Associated Press file photo) Supporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, CHP, chant slogans as they gather for a sit-in protest near central Istanbul's Taksim Square, Monday, April 16, 2018. After it was announced that the motion foreseeing the extension of state of emergency for the seventh time since the failed coup attempt on July 2016, will be discussed in parliament on Wednesday, CHP organized sit-in protests around Turkey calling for the abolishment of the state of emergency.

The LDS Church on Sunday said it has temporarily reassigned volunteers serving in Turkey “due to a prolonged period of heightened political tensions.”

Twenty men, four women and five senior couples will shift to other regions in Europe, Asia and North America, according a church news release. Four other volunteers — or missionaries — nearing the end of their service will return home.

“The safety of our volunteers is a primary concern for the church,” the release stated, “and we work diligently to monitor conditions and make adjustments as needed in an effort to promote their safety.”

Political tensions continue to rise in Turkey ahead of a June 24 presidential election. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces multiple challengers, who allege he moved up the elections from November 2019 to obtain more power. He has said the change was necessary because of uncertainties over Syria.

Erdogan last year won a referendum to change Turkey’s government to an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister. He has said the new system will make Turkey stronger; critics have argued it will lead to a one-man rule. The change will take effect after the presidential election.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last pulled volunteers from Turkey in July 2016, citing unstable conditions — including a violent attempted coup against Erdogan — in the country.

According to Mormon Newsroom, the church in Turkey includes 547 Latter-day Saints among eight congregations.

The church on Sunday also released the name for its Bulgaria Sofia Mission and Central Eurasion Mission merger, which was first announced in February. Headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Bulgaria/Central Eurasion Mission includes Turkey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.