Greece wants Turkey to stop turning church into mosque

Greece wants Turkey to stop turning church into mosque
Greece wants Turkey to stop turning church into mosque

Two days before his official visit to Ankara, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis indicated on Saturday that he would ask Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “reverse the decision” to convert the former Saint-Sauveur Orthodox Church into a mosque. -in-Chora in Istanbul.

The decision to reconvert this emblematic church was taken in 2020 by Ankara “but the fact that its implementation coincides with my visit will certainly allow me to raise this question and see if there is a possibility of reversing this decision,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview with Greek public television AlphaTv.

Four years of restoration

On Monday, May 6, the first Muslim faithful prayed inside the Byzantine church of Saint-Sauveur-in-Chora, which had reopened its doors as a mosque after four years of restoration.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who celebrated its reopening from Ankara, ordered its reconversion in August 2020, a month after the reopening to Muslim worship of the ancient historic basilica of Hagia Sophia.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced on Monday a “provocation” on the part of Ankara, estimating that the reconversion of Saint-Sauveur-in-Chora “alters its character and harms this UNESCO world heritage monument belonging to to humanity.”

Political conversion

In addition to its millennial history rivaling that of Hagia Sophia, the Chora church is best known for its magnificent mosaics and frescoes dating from the 14th century, including a monumental composition of the Last Judgment.

The announcement in 2020 of its conversion into a mosque had raised fears regarding the fate of the building’s mosaics and frescoes, Islam prohibiting figurative representations.

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia and the ancient church of Chora into mosques, two monuments listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, is interpreted by observers as an attempt to galvanize President Erdogan’s conservative and nationalist electoral base, in a context of economic difficulties then aggravated by the Covid pandemic.

Attempts at appeasement

Kyriakos Mitsotakis stressed on Saturday that the reopening of this church was “a completely unnecessary action” and “to a certain extent provocative” not only with regard to Greek-Turkish relations but also world heritage and “respect for its character timeless.”

The meeting on Monday in Ankara between the Greek and Turkish leaders comes five months after the Turkish president’s visit to Athens and is part of an attempt to overcome the mainly territorial disputes which historically oppose the two neighboring countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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