Amid widespread protest and condemnation throughout Greece of Turkey’s decision to reopen the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, a group of far-right Greek extremists burned Turkish flags in Thessaloniki.
On Friday, Muslim prayers attended by thousands of worshippers including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were performed in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 86 years.
In response, a group of protestors in Greece burned a Turkish flag after gathering outside the Agia Sofia Church before marching toward the Turkish Consulate while holding signs that read: “For homeland, nation and orthodoxy.” LINK
Protesters were stopped outside the consulate by security forces but proceeded to burn another Turkish flag and sang the Greek national anthem and shouted slogans.
Besides being a functioning mosque, Hagia Sophia is also among Turkey’s top tourism destinations for domestic and foreign visitors alike.
In 1985 Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. It served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul, and as a mosque from 1453 to 1934. After 1934 it served as a museum.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders had long advocated for it to return to a functioning mosque, open for worship.
In the new era for Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate will oversee religious services at the mosque, while the Culture and Tourism Ministry will supervise restoration and conservation work. LINK
The Greek Orthodox Church declared a day of mourning to protest the conversion, with church bells tolling in protest across Greece. Also, in many places Greek flags flew at half mast on Friday.
The Greek government has strongly criticized Turkey’s move, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calling Turkey a “troublemaker” and the Hagia Sophia conversion an “affront to civilisation of the 21st century”.
“What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness,” he added, referring to Istanbul by the old name of the city used by Greeks.
On Saturday, the Turkish government lambasted the Greek statements. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said that the Greek reaction “once again revealed Greece’s hostility towards Islam and Turkey”.
He “strongly condemned” the burning of the Turkish flag in Thessaloniki, and accused the Greek government and parliament of “provoking the public with hostile statements”.
The Greek oppression against the Muslim Turkish minority in the country are registered by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, he noted, adding that Greece is the only European country which has no mosque in its capital and that it has condoned the destruction of historical mosques on its territory.
Aksoy highlighted that the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque has opened for worship in line with the will of the Turkish nation.
He also stressed that the reopening of it for Muslim worship complies with the “requirements and spirit” of 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Also Omer Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, condemned the burning of Turkish flag in Greece.
“We strongly curse the burning of our glorious flag in Greece. We condemn the politicians who encouraged the Greek fascists who are trying to protest the reopening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque,” Celik said on Twitter. LINK
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