Greece Furious Turkey May Turn Historic Christian Site Into Mosque

Wednesday, 20 Nov 2013 06:58 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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The Greek  Foreign Ministry has denounced comments by a Turkish official suggesting that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum be converted into a mosque, denouncing them as an “insult” to millions of Christians, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
 
Beginning in 537, when Byzantine Emperor Justinian I rebuilt a church on the site, the Hagia Sophia served as the center of Orthodox Christianity. In 1453, it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It then served as the flagship  mosque for Turkish sultans for close to five centuries.
 
In 1935, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk converted it into a museum commemorating the republic and its history, and it has retained that status for close to eight decades.
 
But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc recently expressed hope that it could become a mosque again.
 
The Hurriyet Daily News reported Saturday that Arinc referred to the building as “the Hagia Sophia Mosque” and said that other complexes with the same name in Turkey had recently been converted into mosques.
 
The comment triggered a furious reaction from the Greek Foreign Ministry, the paper reported Tuesday.
 
The ministry said Turkish comments regarding the conversion of former Byzantine Christian churches into mosques “‘are an insult to the religious sensibilities of millions of Christians and are actions that are anachronistic and incomprehensible from a state that declares it wants to participate as a full member in the European Union, a fundamental principle of which is respect for religious freedom.”

The Hagia Sophia’s status  has received growing attention in recent years, as some Muslim groups have campaigned to reopen it for Muslim prayers despite Christian concerns that such a move would show disrespect for its history as a church.
 
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