Athens reacted sternly to the decision by Turkey to reopen the iconic Byzantine-era Church of Chora in Istanbul, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as an Islamic Mosque. The Church-turned Mosque was inaugurated yesterday, Easter Monday (6/5), by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a special ceremony directly connected from the presidential palace via video conference.

“The decision of the Turkish authorities to start the operation of the Monastery of Chora as a Muslim Mosque constitutes a provocation to the international community as it distorts and offends its character as a UNESCO World Heritage Site belonging to humanity,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed in a firm statement.

The official release added: “Preserving the universal character of monuments and observing international standards for the protection of religious and cultural heritage is a clear international obligation binding on all states.”

The Minister of Migration and Asylum Dimitris Kairidis dubbed Erdogan’s decision to convert the Church into a Muslim Mosque “unacceptable,” speaking to Greek TV station Skai.

The Minister called the decision an “absolutely deplorable move,” emphasizing that Kyriakos Mitsotakis will raise the issue during his upcoming visit to Turkey and his meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “as did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Everything is on the table.” “It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today along comes Erdogan, following what happened with Hagia Sophia, dog-whistling at his extreme Islamist electoral faction.”

Referring to Greece’s relations with Turkey, the Minister of Migration and Asylum stressed that the Greek side would not make any concessions or “appease” the other side. “Erdogan made a U-turn, not Greece. Erdogan went from Mitsotakis is a fool to suspending all airspace violations (F-16 illegal overflights in the Aegean Sea).”

Turkey’s move does not come as a surprise, as the decision to turn the historic Church into a Muslim Mosque was made in 2019, before being published in the Turkish government Gazette in 2020. For the past 4 years, Turkish authorities have been conducting maintenance and restoration works at the monument for its official opening as a mosque.

The Monastery of Christ at Chora is located in northwestern Byzantine Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) near Charisios Gate (Edirnekapı), south of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Sarayı).

The well-preserved mosaics and frescoes of the surviving catholicon of the monastery are important examples of monumental art of the Late Byzantine period. After serving as a mosque (known as Kariye Mosque or Ali Pasha Kenise Mosque), it was converted into a museum in 1945 and is now part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul of UNESCO World Heritage.

Last month, Greece officially opened the Yeni Mosque in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, for a one-time prayer during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr religious holiday, the end of Ramadan, 102 years after it last functioned as a house of worship.

The two-storey Yeni Mosque, designed by Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli in 1902, was shut down in 1922 one year before the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. It initially housed Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum and today is an exhibition center.


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