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Evolution & Atavism?

After Hagia Sophia, it is Chora or Kariye Museum… Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expressly sticking to his decision to converting former Greek Orthodox churches to Mosques, one after another… He has, seemingly, decided to garner support of the Radical and Nationalist Islamists in favour of his Government, and divert the people’s attention from the bankrupt National Economy! However, this controversial decision has added a new dimension to the tension between Turkey and Greece.

Hagia Sophia

The most popular tourist destination in Turkey, regardless of religion, has been the Hagia Sophia, for long. Officially the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and formerly the Church of Hagia Sophia is a Late Antique place of worship in Istanbul. Built in AD 537 as the Patriarchal Cathedral of the imperial capital of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church, except during the Latin Empire from AD 1204 to 1261, when it became the city’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. After the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, it was converted into a Mosque. In 1935, the Secular Turkish Republic established it as a Museum. On July 10, 2020, it re-opened as a Mosque. The Turkish President did not stop here. A couple of days ago, President Erdoğan ordered another ancient Orthodox Church, the Kariye Museum, to be turned back into a place of Muslim worship…

Kariye Museum

The 1,000-year-old Kariye Museum building’s history has a similarity with that of the Hagia Sophia. The Christian World considers this medieval Byzantine Church, decorated with 14th Century frescoes of the Last Judgement, as a treasure. It had been converted into the Kariye Mosque five decades after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. After the WWII, it became the Kariye Museum as Turkey pushed ahead with the creation of a more secular new republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. A group of American Art Historians had helped restore the mosaics of original church and opened them up for public display in 1958. Now, President Erdoğan has decided to place an ever greater political emphasis on the battles that resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans!

President Erdoğan

The Global Community and various international organisations, such as UNESCO, have strongly criticised Turkey for its decision to make these two historically significant museums merely places of worship for a particular community. So far, Greece has been the most vocal critic. The diplomatic ties between Turkey and Greece have deteriorated in recent times over maritime gas reserves in the Aegean Sea. The tension escalated to the point in July that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to mediate between the two countries on behalf of the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, the Greek Foreign Ministry has called the decision “yet another provocation against religious persons everywhere” by the Turkish Government. However, President Erdoğan is somewhat hell-bent in supporting his views…

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