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In Aghia Sophia Backlash, Anti-Turkish Boycott Calls Grow in Greece

Αssociated Press

Faithful, one holding a Turkish flag, chant slogans as they wait at the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Yasin Akgul)

ATHENS – The conversion of the ancient Aghia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople into a mosque has drawn diplomatic fire from Greece, international condemnation, and now Greek businesses launching a boycott campaign of Turkish goods.

In a feature by Anthee Carassava, the Voice of America reported on the phenomenon with relations between the countries also worsening over Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and plans to drill for energy off Greek islands.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis also wants the European Union, which has been reluctant to confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in fear he may flood the bloc with more refugees and migrants – through Greece – to slap hard sanctions on Turkey.

That didn't happen, with European Council President Charles Michel, representing the leaders of the 27 Member States, offering only more diplomacy at a later date with Erdogan who has shown he doesn't care one whit what the EU or anyone thinks. 

Vassilis Korkidis, President of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) told the site that Greece needs to strike back at Turkey which has mostly been having its way before pulling back warships and an energy vessel from plans to hunt for oil and gas off Kastellorizo and other Greek islands, including Crete.

The Greek government – too late – is also scrambling to find some response to the move making the cathedral a mosque. It had been a museum since 1934 after being made into a mosque in 1453 when Turkey seized Constantinople.

Korkidis said Greek businesses should not trade with Turkish partners, noting that Turkish goods have the numbers 868 and 869 appear on bardcodes of imported goods as he urged Greeks not to buy the products either.

Even during rising tensions, Greece's annual exports have grown to about $1.6 billion, far more than the $1.2 billion in imports from Turkey, giving Greece a trade deficit with its difficult neighbor.

With both countries, along with most of the world, also trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, their economics have been undercut, making trade even more essential but Greeks who didn't follow politics or the high seas drama relate to Aghia Sophia.

There's no sense whether there will even be shunning of Turkish goods with the cultures of the countries and food products so inter-related but Korkidis said Greeks should steer clear of products from Turkey.

"We may enjoy a generous trade surplus but when you factor in the resources that Greece has to pull together to fend off continued flows of illegal migration from Turkey, and the huge military costs now racking up to safeguard against Turkish provocations - well all of that wipes out any semblance of a surplus,” he said.

Greek business associations say they are already reaching out to partner organizations across Europe to institute build an even broader boycott against Turkey, the report added, after Greek churches rang bells in mourning when Muslim prayers began in the venerated ancient church on July 24. 

Nationalists in both countries have also seized on the conversion to ramp up rhetoric, with the burning of a Turkish flag burned in Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki – the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern secular Turkey who made Aghia Sophia into a museum, now undone by Erdogan.

“We strongly condemn hostile statements made by members of the Greek Government and Parliament provoking the public opinion and allowing the burning of our glorious flag in Thessaloniki,” Hami Aksoy, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a written statement, Turkey's state-run Anadolu News Agency also reported.

Aksoy said Greece showcased its hostility against Islam and Turkey once again under the pretext of showing reaction against the reopening of the Aghia Sophia Grand Mosque, not noting the irony of the Greek world for Saint used in the new name.

He said “the spoiled children of Europe”, who cannot accept the reopening of the iconic architecture as a mosque, were "delirious" again.

“These racist mindsets, who have not drawn the required lessons from history, those who disrespect our glorious flag should remember their fate in the Aegean,” Aksoy also said, referring to past Turkish conquests.

Greece also denounced the flag burning even as Mitsotakis, who kept saying that failed diplomacy would eventually work, cranked up his tone against Turkey, taking a harder line as Erdogan repeatedly made his moves and provocations.