Sunday, May 12, 2024

Turkey converts another former Byzantine-era church into a mosque, draws ire of Greece

Turkey to turn 12th-century church to a mosque - UCA News

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially inaugurated a former Byzantine-era church previously known as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, a United Nations World Heritage Site, as a mosque this week, drawing condemnation from the Greek government.

The change is part of a series of conversions in recent years, including the iconic Hagia Sophia in 2020, and has garnered international criticism.

Located in the Fatih district of Istanbul, near the ancient city walls, the building known locally as Kariye is celebrated for its intricate mosaics and frescoes dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

Greece has been vocal in its criticism, especially since the Kariye was opened as a mosque the day after Greek Orthodox Easter. The Greek Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement.

"The Turkish authorities' decision to begin the operation of the Monastery of Chora as a Muslim mosque constitutes a provocation for the international community as it distorts and affects its character as a UNESCO World Heritage Site belonging to humanity," the statement reads. 

"The maintenance of monuments' universal character and compliance with international standards for the protection of religious and cultural heritage is a clear international obligation binding on all States."

Originally built by Constantine the Great in the early fourth century, the Holy Saviour church was converted into the Kariye Mosque about 50 years after the Ottoman Turks' 1453 conquest of Constantinople.

The Turkish government designated the building a museum in 1945. The museum opened for public display in 1958 after American art historians helped restore the original church's mosaics.

This week's inauguration, conducted remotely by Erdogan from Ankara, coincided with the opening of several other recently restored structures, The Associated Press reported, adding that its formal conversion was announced in 2020.

"May it bring good fortune," Erdogan stated during the event broadcasted nationally. The ceremony included prayers from local worshippers. 

The General Directorate of Foundations in Turkey organized the opening ceremony, which saw a large turnout of community members and featured a speech by Istanbul's mufti, Safi Arpaguş, Catholic News Agency noted.

In 2020, Erdogan and hundreds of worshippers participated in the first Muslim prayers in 86 years at Hagia Sophia, which was redesignated as a mosque amidst widespread international disapproval.

The conversions are seen as strategic moves to solidify Erdogan's ruling party's conservative and religious base during an economic downturn.

The U.S. Department of State has also expressed concern, urging Turkey to respect the "diverse histories" of such heritage sites.

"We are aware that the Chora Museum, a World Heritage Site, has been reopened as a mosque, and we refer you to the Turkish government for further details," a spokesperson for the State Department told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency, according to Ekathimerini. "We encourage the Turkish government to preserve and ensure access to sites and buildings that have hosted different religious communities in a way that respects their diverse histories."