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Turkish actress 'accused of being a Christian' after translating Pope visit

The actress has previously provoked controversy for saying headscarf-wearing women looked like 'monsters'
Serra Yilmaz is best known for her roles in Turkish filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek's work (Wikicommons)

A leading Turkish actress said on Thursday she has been subjected to a welter of insults on social media since having acted as a translator for Pope Francis during his visit to Turkey in November.

Serra Yilmaz said she was "accused of being a Christian" by trolls in Turkey, who were angry at the renowned actress agreeing to interpret for Francis.

"I was accused of being a Christian just because I acted as the translator of Pope Francis," Yilmaz told university students in the western port city of Izmir, Milliyet newspaper reported Thursday. 

"It is ridiculous to judge people by their beliefs."

"But many people made groundless claims like 'the Vatican hired you,' or insulted me on social media," she said.

“As a matter of fact, the Foreign Ministry asked for me personally and I went and translated.”

The 60-year-old stage and screen star, who is fluent in Italian, said she had been hired by Turkey's foreign ministry to work as a translator during the pope's three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul in late November. 

Yilmaz, best known overseas for her roles in Italy-based Turkish filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek's films, regularly works as a translator for Italian-speaking dignitaries and politicians visiting Turkey. 

She has also worked as a translator for Pope Benedict XVI, Francis' predecessor, when he visited Turkey in 2006. 

Yilmaz provoked controversy in Turkey - run by the conservative Justice and Development party (AKP) government for more than a decade - when she famously said in 2012 that girls with headscarves scare her and they look like "monsters".

"Won't nuns scare Serra Yilmaz, who said headscarved girls look like monsters?" a Twitter user with the handle @hamdiaydinn wrote, while another suggested "it is now clear she is a missionary". 

While Turkey is run on strictly secular lines, the vast majority of its 76-million inhabitants are Muslim. Turkey's Christian community is no more than 120,000-strong, most of them Greek Orthodox or Armenian.

Last week the Pope warned that Christians were being “driven from the Middle East.”

"Due to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially, but not only, Christians and Yazidi, have suffered and continue to suffer, inhuman violence because of their religious and ethnic identity," the pope said in a video address timed to coincide with a visit Saturday by French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil.

"Christians and Yazidi have been forced out of their homes; they have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith."

"Even holy buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural heritage have been affected by the violence, almost as if to cancel every trace, every memory of the other."

However, he previously praised Turkey as an example of “peaceful coexistence”, asking “may God continue to protect the Turkish people, their authorities, its representatives also in the different faiths, so that together they can build a place of peace, of peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures."