TAMPA, FL – Greek-American in Florida spoke with The National Herald to express their love and respect for Aghia Sophia and their anger about its transformation into a mosque. They all noted that this action by Ankara has put it in opposition with the civilized world. They also emphasized that Aghia Sophia will always be the church of Hellenism and Christianity, that international reactions are not satisfactory, because they are limited to words and that the Greek Diaspora should inform the American public and politicians.
Panhellenic Federation of Florida President Michael Alexandrou said that Aghia Sophia is a great symbol of Hellenism and Christianity, and the transformation of its status from a museum to a mosque, "serves domestic consumption in Turkey." He added that the action of Ankara has “placed it in the crosshairs of all civilized nations.”
Alexandrou said that the Federation of Florida, like other organizations, reacted in its own way, with information and letters to various Americans and other stakeholders. “The struggle continues even stronger, to overturn the decision of the Turks,” he noted. He lamented that President Trump, in his communication with Erdogan, "did not say a word about the Aghia Sophia.”
Pharmacist and Karpathian Association of Florida President Minas Liristis, angrily described President Erdogan's decision as very provocative, explaining that Constantinople is full of mosques, so there was no need. “I believe he did it to threaten Europe and, of course, Greece, but also for internal reasons, in order to remain in power," he said. "Unfortunately, with this decision, Turkey is moving deep into Islam and moving away from Western values.”
Liristis argued that Greece should create alliances, in which it must present the problem of Turkey's challenges, not as a Greek-Turkish problem, but as a European one, which divides Turkey and Europe. Sanctions should also be imposed on Ankara.
Petros Koutsopanagos, President of the Hellenic American Society of Pasco County and Vice President of the Prometheus Pan Hellenic Cultural Center in Florida, said that Aghia Sophia is a symbol of Hellenism and Christianity, "and what the Turks are doing is unacceptable."
He added that "Hellenism must rise up and we must do everything to keep Aghia Sophia as it was."
Koutsopanagos is not satisfied with the international reactions, because they are limited to words, without taking measures against Ankara. "We, the expatriates, must react in every way, informing the American public and politicians, in order to put strong pressure from the American government on Ankara," said Koutsopanagos.
The Director of the Greek Department for Plato Academy Schools in Florida, Konstantinos Aretis, said that "Aghia Sophia is everything to us,” and claimed that Erdogan decided to turn it into a mosque, for other purposes. "He is committing a crime that he will pay for," Aretis continued, adding that the Greek community should boycott Turkish products and services. "We are at a crossroads and we must all be together, united, against what is happening with Aghia Sophia," he said.
Aretis also described the celebrations in Turkey of those who talk about a second fall of Constantinople as “ridiculous,” while he noted that he is not satisfied with the international reactions so far. "Russia, which is an Orthodox country, should have reacted more strongly," he said.
Alex Mihopoulos, a businessman, spoke of President Erdogan's "megalomania" and his irrational actions. He also noted that Aghia Sophia is the center of Christianity. "Whatever Turkey does, for us it will always be the Christian church of Aghia Sophia," he added. "Erdogan did it for political reasons and, as always, against Greece. He does not take anything into account and does not respect anything.”
Mihopoulos said there were international reactions, but Turkey was not listening. "If they can overturn the decision to turn it into a mosque, then we will say that they contributed some service,” he pointed out. “Both the United States and the European Union have intervened, but Turkey is not listening. Economic pressure must be exerted on Ankara and not just words.”