The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said he was saddened by Turkey’s plans to open Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia to Muslim prayers in comments he made to the Washington Post.
“What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken,” the patriarch was quoted as saying in an article penned by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO world heritage site, served as the centre of the Greek Orthodox church for more than 900 years before it was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular founder of modern Turkey, had the giant building turned into a museum in 1935. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly signalled over the years that it should be restored as a mosque to fulfil a long-standing demand by Turkish Islamists.
Officials of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate recited sections of the Quran at Hagia Sophia in honour of Conquest of Istanbul Day on May 29, raising speculation that the building will be turned into a mosque or used regularly for Islamic prayer.
“But who is this conquest against?” Aydıntaşbaş cited a Greek Orthodox based in Istanbul as saying.
“Turks have been running Istanbul for nearly six centuries, and the handful of Christians left in the country pose neither a cultural nor a political challenge to anyone,” Aydıntaşbaş said.