Today’s guest is Baris Erman from Instanbul, who is a member of Musavat Lodge #11, part of the Grand Lodge of Turkey.

Baris contacted me to explain the differences between Freemasonry in England and Turkey, and it was so interesting I had to have him as a guest on In The Chair.

The first thing we discuss is how Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts progress through the Craft. In Turkey this is not only a slower process, and members must demonstrate knowledge by writing short essays and attend a minimum number of meetings, and these meetings often involve a lecture and discussion.

And once a Master Mason starts progressing through the Offices it can still take over 20 years to become Worshipful Master, especially as offices are held for two years.

Because Turkey is very multicultural it is standard to have the Torah, Bible and Quran on the Master’s pedestal, as well as any others should a member of a different religion also be in attendance.

In Turkey it is often perceived that Freemasonry is an atheist organisation, which is contrary to how Freemasonry is often perceived in Western countries where it is assumed it is more religious than Craft masonry is.

We also discuss the history of Freemasonry in Turkey. It isn’t a smooth history with many splits and break-ups through-out its history – if you’d like to find out more there’s a link to some articles below. We also cover how the language barriers are overcome in a country so diverse as Turkey.

An interesting thing that surprised me is Royal Arch Chapter never made it to Turkey, though other orders based on the Scottish Rite did.

Also, here is the original email that Baris sent to me, which also contains a wealth of information:

Dear Bro. Robert,

I’m a freemason from Istanbul, Turkey, and an avid listener to your excellent podcast. I try to listen to it weekly when I’m commuting to the university I’m working at. I enjoy learning about freemasonry in other countries, and I just love your show because it’s focused on individuals rather than general knowledge you can easily find online or in books. In this way, I can understand how it “feels” to be a freemason in the UK. As to me, I was initiated 1996, when I was 19 (According to the rules of the Turkish GL, sons of freemasons may be initiated before the age of 21, but they have to remain an EA until they are 21). So, next year will be my 20th year in the craft. I have gone through various offices (master of ceremonies, secretary, expert, and now treasurer), but there is still time for the East.

Of course, coming from different traditions and masonic cultures, there is a lot to compare between our systems. I’m a member of the Musavat Lodge nr. 11 under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey, which is recognized by UGLE. Turkish freemasonry dates back to 1861 (with the founding of the Supreme Council of Turkey), but the first national grand lodge was formed in 1909. In 1965 there was a schism between brothers trying to seek recognition from “regular” grand lodges, and those who wanted to pursue liberal freemasonry: Our grand lodge was formed as a result of this separation, and was recognized by UGLE in 1970.

I find the liberty to provide further details regarding Turkish freemasonry, since you kindly expressed your interest in such information at the latest episode of the masonic podcast. I’d like to apologise if I’m taking too much of your time.

Turkish Freemasonry has a number of interesting characteristics:

  • Our GL is mostly centralized: Lodge rooms are provided by the GL, and most of the administrative stuff is dealt with by it – Lodges don’t occupy themselves with financial or administrative matters other than the election of lodge officers and the collection of dues.
  • Lodge meetings are biweekly, and we have a 3-month hiatus in the summer. On average, there are 19 meetings of a lodge each year.
  • Lodge meetings typically consist of either a ceremony, or a conference. Conferences and lectures also happen in tyled lodges, after a ritual opening. Mostly, these meetings are at EA degree. A conference is typically 30 minutes long, and is followed by a discussion.
  • Dress code is always business attire.
  • After each meeting, there is a dinner with more discussion.
  • Passing and raising only occurs after one year of good standing with at least 50% of the meetings (on the present degree) attended. So, an EA may only petition to be passed to FC, if he has been a member of the lodge for one year, and has attended at least 50% of the lodge’s meetings at EA degree.
  • Officers are elected for 2-year terms. In order to be eligible, one has to have been a MM of good standing for one year, and have attended at least 50% of the meetings of the lodge during the previous year.
  • The ritual is mostly based on the AASR, but is a bit modified. There has been a significant influence of the GL of Scotland during the recognition process as well (i.e. the inclusion of due guard). In addition, the ritual is a bit de-christianized to comply with the understanding of Turkish freemasonry. There are always three VSL on the altar (Torah, Bible, Quran), and additional Books are added, if a brother from a different faith is present. There is NO reference whatsoever to the Saints John, the ladder has been removed from the tressle board (which is a bit far-fetched in my personal opinion)
  • The present social climate in Turkey is mostly filled with prejudice against freemasons, especially by the more religiously-inclined muslim population. However, the numbers of freemasons are constantly rising for decades. The actual number lies around 15.000 brothers at our GL.
  • As appendant body, there is only the Supreme Council of the AASR. In contrast to England, The SC does accept brethren of all faiths, AND is recognized by the SC of England.

I would be delighted to answer any of your questions regarding Turkish freemasonry, if you are indeed interested.

Fraternally yours,

Baris Erman

Links from the show

The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Turkey website
Article on the history of Freemasonry in Turkey
Article on the history of Freemasonry in Islamic Cultures
Kennet Lodge, 4414 (My Lodge) Website

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ITC 21 In The Chair Masonic Podcast: Freemasonry in Turkey with Baris Erman
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