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After Hagia Sophia, Turkey converts a second historical Byzantine church right into a mosque

After Hagia Sophia, Turkey converts a second historical Byzantine church right into a mosque


Muslims attend Friday prayers exterior the newly inaugurated Kariye Mosque, previously Chora Church, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 10, 2024.(RNS photograph/David I. Klein)

Hundreds of worshippers crammed the slender streets of Istanbul’s Fatih district on Friday to listen to the sounds of Friday prayers ringing out from the newly inaugurated Kariye Mosque.


Once often known as the Chora Church, the location spent the final 79 years as a museum. But it’s now the newest construction to be transformed again right into a mosque by the federal government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following the conversion of Hagia Sophia in 2020. While seen as a triumph by many Turkish Muslims, the Greek Orthodox Church has decried it as an “ill-advised choice” that “makes a mockery of the Turkish authorities’s dedication to spiritual tolerance and spiritual freedom.”

Chora’s conversion was introduced shortly after Hagia Sophia’s, however its opening for prayer was delayed by years of restoration work.

The exhibiting for the primary Friday prayers at Kariye was comparatively quiet in comparison with Hagia Sophia, which drew lots of of hundreds who crammed the streets with prayer rugs for blocks and blocks away from the constructing. By distinction, the gang on Friday was comparatively common for a mosque in one in all Istanbul’s extra religiously conservative neighborhoods, the place Friday worshippers regularly spill out onto the streets.

Both the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia are 4th-century Byzantine constructions. They spent almost a millennium as Christian holy websites earlier than being transformed to mosques by the Ottomans after their conquest of Constantinople within the fifteenth century. Despite their conversions, they remained revered by Orthodox Christians. After the founding of a secular Turkish Republic within the early twentieth century, the choice was made for each to be neither mosque nor church however merely museums.

“Both Hagia Sophia and Chora embodied Byzantine and Ottoman pasts, and so they turned symbols of co-existence and multi-faith dwelling practices. Their conversion essentially implies a hierarchy, prioritizing the Islamic previous over all different layers, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Jewish, Syriac, et al,” Dr. Özgür Kaymak, a lecturer and researcher on minority rights at Istanbul’s MEF University, instructed Religion News Service in an e mail.

Rededicating the websites as mosques is greater than only a standing change. According to Islamic custom, paintings of human figures are forbidden in locations of prayer, whereas in Orthodox Churches, icons of Christ, saints and different biblical figures are a defining function.

In Hagia Sophia, the mosaics of Jesus and Mary have been lined with curtains for the reason that conversion. While Erdoğan promised Hagia Sophia would stay absolutely accessible and free to all guests, Turkey reneged on that earlier this 12 months, reimposing an entrance price on vacationers and relegating them to the higher degree, whereas the principle flooring is unique to Muslim worshippers.

Observers have additionally criticized the Turkish Directorate of Religion’s caretaking of the location, noting injury that didn’t exist when it was beneath the purview of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Though Chora is considerably smaller than Hagia Sophia, it’s residence to a few of the best-preserved examples of late-Byzantine artwork, together with mosaics, icons and frescoes, and is taken into account a UNESCO World Heritage website.

“For us it is a vital place as a result of it remembers our tradition and our traditions right here,” Father Evangelos Markantonis, an Orthodox priest who was main a bunch of theology college students to Chora on Friday, instructed Religion News Service.

“Though we can’t venerate as Orthodox Christians, now we have to attempt to discover issues we could be united on. Only with dialogue and good deeds can we proceed our lives,” Markantonis, who can be a professor on the University of Athens, stated when requested concerning the controversy.

Erdoğan had lengthy refused calls from his proper to transform church buildings like Hagia Sophia and Chora, telling supporters in 2018 to fill the close by Sultan Ahmet Mosque (additionally recognized in English because the Blue Mosque) earlier than they talked about needing to wish in Hagia Sophia.

Nonetheless, he made an about-turn in 2020.

“My expensive nation, the conquest of Istanbul and the conversion of the Hagia Sophia right into a Mosque are among the many most wonderful chapters in Turkish historical past,” Erdoğan stated on the time in a speech inaugurating the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.

“This is probably the most honorable day that Islam has been trying ahead to, Greek Constantinople has change into Turkish Istanbul,” he added, quoting the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.

“The resurrection of Hagia Sophia heralds the liberation of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the footsteps of the need of Muslims the world over to come back out of the interregnum,” Erdoğan stated in his concluding remarks.

Chora’s opening because the Kariye Mosque comes simply weeks after Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered its largest electoral defeat in 20 years throughout Turkey’s nationwide municipal elections.

“The current conversion of Chora right into a mosque could also be because of Erdoğan’s many issues, together with his geopolitical energy politics, his attraction to religio-nationalism to revive his electoral recognition after the March elections or his tactic to divert consideration from Turkey’s financial downturn,” Kaymak stated.

Many analysts have attributed the loss to AKP bleeding votes to the extra Islamist-leaning New Welfare Party, which has pressured Erdogan over his response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and humanitarian scenario within the Gaza Strip.

Muslim worshippers on the mosque on Friday stated they seen its rededication as an Islamic website to be a nationwide win for Turkey.

“This mosque is without doubt one of the symbols of the Conquest. We are proud and completely satisfied. There are very stunning frescoes inside. They had been additionally properly renovated earlier than they had been closed. May or not it’s good for our nation and our nation,” a bystander, Ahmet Öteyüzoğlu, instructed Turkish media.

“Thank God for as of late. Not everybody has the chance of their lifetime,” one other bystander named Mehmet Çelik instructed the Turkish information service Anadolu Agency, in reference to having been capable of pray at each the rededicated Hagia Sophia and Kariye Mosques.

However, Greece, the U.S. State Department and Orthodox Christian establishments worldwide have all criticized the choice to revert the construction right into a mosque.

“I wish to publicly categorical my intense dissatisfaction, decoding the sentiments of all Greek men and women, for the fully pointless conversion of a historic Byzantine temple, the Monastery of Chora, right into a mosque. It is, I consider, an motion that offends the wealthy historical past of Istanbul itself as a crossroads of cultures,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated shortly earlier than leaving for Turkey for a deliberate assembly with Erdogan.

“We encourage the Turkish authorities to protect and guarantee entry to websites and buildings which have hosted totally different spiritual communities in a approach that respects their various histories,” a State Department spokesperson stated in response to questions from Greek media.

“The Turkish authorities’s appropriation of each because the property of 1 religion group not solely constitutes one more signal of that authorities’s contempt for Turkey’s wealthy Orthodox Christian heritage however additional imperils the spiritual freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining Christians of that land,” the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate stated in an announcement.

© Religion News Service



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