On the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Erdoğan endorses the recitation of an Islamic prayer inside the basilica. In a strong-worded reaction, the Greek government calls it an insult to the international community. For Turkey, “Hagia Sophia is on Turkish territory”, and is “our property” and “up to us”. Catholics and Orthodox are in favour of the status quo.
Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The celebrations for the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople have renewed the row, never settled, between Greece and Turkey over the fate of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
On the eve of the anniversary, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan endorsed the recitation of an Islamic prayer, the al-Fath surah of Conquest, inside the former basilica and former mosque, transformed into a museum in 1935 under Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.
Erdoğan, who followed the event via live stream last Friday, criticised the Greek government for the fact that Athens, the Greek capital, does not have a single mosque. His communication director Fahrettin Altun on Twitter hinted that the church will be converted once again into a mosque.
Turkey’s reaction came after Greece issued a strongly worded statement, calling the Islamic prayer an “unacceptable attempt to alter the site’s” status, and constitutes an “affront to the religious sentiment of Christians throughout the world.”
For the Greek Foreign Ministry, “This action is an insult to the international community and once again exposes Turkey, which has an obligation to respect both the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and UNESCO, of which it is a member”.
In his reply, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that “Hagia Sophia is on Turkish territory, it was conquered,” and “What we do in our country and with our property is up to us.”
According to a review of the Greek media, the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans is seen as occupation, whereas Muslims see it as “a grace”.
Against this background, the head of a Greek American organisation in Athens proposed to have Hagia Sophia used as a mosque and a church, on alternate months. In his view, “If Hagia Sophia is open this way, millions of Christians will travel to Istanbul. And Turkey will gain in tourism.”
By and large, Catholics and Orthodox would rather see the church kept as a museum. But Erdoğan has other goals. His Islamic version of Turkish nationalism appears to be heading more and more towards turning the basilica into a mosque, despite Mustafa Kemal’s secularism.