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Erdogan confirms ancient Istanbul Orthodox church converted to mosque

Erdogan confirms ancient Istanbul Orthodox church converted to mosque
Source: Pixabay

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday confirmed the reopening of a mosque in Istanbul converted from an ancient Byzantine Orthodox church, in the face of Greek protests.

Erdogan discussed the church in a meeting in Ankara with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on a trip that was meant to strengthen the countries’ relations.

“The Kariye mosque in its new form will remain open to everyone,” Erdogan told a news conference alongside the Greek leader.

“We have opened our Kariye mosque for worship and visits after painstaking restoration work.”

Mitsotakis had appealed against the conversion of the Holy Saviour in Chora, decorated with 14th-century frescoes of the Last Judgement that are still treasured by Christians.

He complained to Erdogan about the latest move.

“I discussed with Mr. Erdogan the conversion… I expressed my dissatisfaction to him,” the Greek premier said after meeting with the Turkish leader.

“It is very important to preserve the unique cultural value of this monument, which is listed as UNESCO world heritage, so that it can remain accessible to all visitors.”

The church was converted into Kariye Mosque half a century after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.

It became the Kariye Museum after World War II, when Turkey sought to create a more secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan in 2020 ordered the building to be reconverted into a Muslim place of worship.

His order came followed a similarly controversial ruling on the UNESCO-protected Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul.

At the time of the Kariye Mosque’s reopening on May 6, Greece’s foreign affairs ministry called the move a “provocation”.

Erdogan said Monday he attached “great importance” to “protecting any monument that constitutes an item of UNESCO cultural heritage and to making it accessible for the benefit of our nation and all humanity.”

The changes were seen as part of Erdogan’s efforts to galvanise his more conservative and nationalist supporters. Erdogan’s ruling AKP party has Islamist roots.

Despite the disagreement, the two leaders said they were working to normalise relations after decades of tension.

Erdogan called it an “extremely productive, honest and constructive meeting”.

“We think that strengthening the spirit of cooperation between Turkey and Greece will be beneficial for both countries and for the region,” Erdogan said.

He said the two sides had agreed to raise their bilateral trade from $6 billion to $10 billion.

“We have shown that, besides existing disagreements, we can turn over a new leaf,” Mitsotakis said.

“We wish to intensify our bilateral contact. We continue on a positive path.”

The two countries signed a cooperation agreement on disaster and emergency management, following a devastating earthquake in Turkey in February and forest fires in Greece last year.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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