Greece hit out Friday at Turkey’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it was a demonstration of “weakness”, as churches around the country mourned the controversial move.
“What is happening in (Istanbul) this day is not a show of force, but proof of weakness,” Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement.
Greece concerned at ‘diminishing’ of Hagia Sophia
Nevertheless, the move would not “diminish the radiance of a global heritage monument”, he said.
“Especially to us Orthodox Christians, Hagia Sophia today is in our hearts more than ever. It is where our heart beats,” Mitsotakis said.
Many Ottoman era Mosques in Greece had been converted to ballroom, adult film theaters, military prison etc..
— Z (@pindropviolence) July 16, 2020
On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined thousands in the first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia since the Istanbul landmark was reconverted from a museum into a mosque.
The UNESCO World Heritage site was originally the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral before its first conversion into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
In 1934, modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it be turned into a museum, but a Turkish court said earlier this month it had been registered in property deeds as a mosque, paving the way for the Muslim worship to be reintroduced on Friday.
At midday, churches around Greece rang their bells and flew their flags at half-mast in protest against what the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, called an “unholy act of defiling” the former cathedral.
“(Today) is a day of mourning for all of… Christianity,” Ieronymos said.
“A day of mourning for all” declares Greece in wake of Hagia Sophia prayers
However, Constantinos Bogdanos, a deputy from the ruling New Democracy party, told AFP: “It is not a day of mourning, it is a day of revelation of Turkey’s growing aggressiveness.”
Religious and nationalist groups also staged protests in Athens and Thessaloniki.
Later on Friday, the archbishop held a special service at the Athens Metropolis, during which he chanted the Akathist Hymn in honour of the Virgin Mary.
According to Greek tradition, the same service was held in Hagia Sophia on the eve of the Byzantine Empire capital’s fall to the Ottomans.
Hagia Sophia is “a symbol of our faith and a universal monument of culture,” Ieronymos said.
Pope condemns conversion decision
Pope Francis on Sunday joined an international chorus of condemnation of Turkey’s decision to convert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia landmark back into a mosque.
“I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened,” Pope Francis said towards the end of his midday sermon in Saint Peter’s Square.
It was the Vatican’s first reaction to Turkey’s decision to transform the Byzantine-era monument back into a mosque, a decision that has already drawn criticism from around the world.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano on Saturday carried reaction from different countries to Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque, but without any comment.
What is the Turkish decision on Hagia Sophia?
Earlier on July 10, a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century monument’s status as a museum, that had been declared under Kemal Attaturk in 1934, and Erdogan ordered the building to reopen for Muslim worship, deeply angering the Christian community and further straining relations with NATO ally Greece.
Erdogan pursued the plan despite appeals from the United States and Russia and condemnation by Pope Francis.
“God willing, we will perform Friday prayers all together on July 24 and reopen Hagia Sophia to worshipping,” he said, assuring that it would open its door to all, including non-Muslims.
“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”
The UNESCO World Heritage site in historic Istanbul, a magnet for tourists worldwide, was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Last year, 3.8 million tourists visited the monument.
GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources