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The Greek Minority and its foundations in Istanbul, Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos)
Greek and world heritage in Turkey
Greece is deeply concerned about the future fate of monuments of Greek and world heritage in Turkey. Recent incidents of monument damages give rise to questions about the ability of Turkey to protect and preserve the plethora of monuments History inherited it – with the view, of course, to safeguard their Greek, Christian Orthodox or other nature. The commitment to safeguard national and world heritage is enshrined into an array of international conventions and resolutions adopted within the greater institutional framework of the United Nations.
Greece is equally concerned about a recurrent rumour, based on Turkish leadership’s statements, about the conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque. The İstanbul Hagia Sophia is a longstanding symbol of the Orthodox ecumenical tradition of Byzantine spirit and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its unparalleled historic, cultural and architectural importance. However, in recent years, several facts aiming at changing the use of Hagia Sophia as a museum are reported. For instance, on the occasion of Ramadan, in 2016, Koran reading ceremonies and a muezzin’s call to prayer from within Hagia Sophia were broadcasted on television, featuring also the head of Religious Affairs Directorate. At the same time, during the festival of the sacrifice feast (Eidh-Al-Adha) in September 2016, an Islamic prayer also took place in the wider museum area. Last but not least, a permanent imam was appointed, on October 21, 2016, at the royal pavilion (Hunkar Kasri) of the Hagia Sophia site. Turkey’s actions have raised controversy on a prospective change of use of the monument.
The practice of the Turkish government to convert churches and monasteries into mosques, such as the cases of the İznik, the Trabzon and the Enez Hagia Sophia churches or of the byzantine monument of Saint John the Forerunner at Stoudios Monastery in Istanbul does not observe the principle of respect and protection of monuments of paramount historic and cultural value. The repeated discussion on the conversion of the İstanbul Hagia Sophia into a mosque contravenes blatantly the reiterated declarations of Turkish officials on religious tolerance or its initiatives for interreligious and intercultural dialogue, which Greece has always subscribed to.
However, the annual celebration of mass at the Trebizond Sümela Monastery –allowed by the Turkish authorities upon a proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarch–, was a positive development in the area of religious freedom.