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Greece Protests Constantinople Church Being Turned into Mosque

ATHENS – A detente between them hasn’t kept Turkey from making a Byzantine church in Constantinople into a mosque – as it did with the fevered Haghia Sophia – and Greece protesting another provocation.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry said reopening the Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, as a mosque “constitutes a challenge to the international community, as it alters and insults its character as a UNESCO world cultural heritage monument belonging to humanity.”.

It added: “The preservation of the universal character of monuments and the observance of international standards for the protection of religious and cultural heritage is a clear international obligation that binds all states.”

People visit a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown he doesn’t care one whit what the world thinks of whatever he does, ignoring criticism over making Haghia Sophia a mosque and plowing ahead to please his hard-core base of the ultra-religious.

Four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, he presided over a ceremony for the church, situated near the ancient city’s walls, the designation as a mosque clashing with the elaborate mosaics and frescoes.

It dates to the Fourth Century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th-12th centuries. The structure served as a mosque during Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945.

A visitor takes photographs during his visit to a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

The Chora’s formal launch as a mosque, however, was delayed as the structure then underwent restoration and the reopening came during a time when Erdogan had been ratcheting down tension but occasionally taunting Greece.

The conversions of the two churches received praise from Muslim faithful but criticism from Greece and other countries who had urged Turkey to protect the important Byzantine-era monuments, which fell on deaf ears.

Like Haghia Sophia, which was a church for centuries and then a mosque for centuries more, the Chora had operated as a museum for decades before it was ordered turned into a mosque as well.

Erdogan remotely presided over a ceremony marking the opening of the Chora – as well as other recently-restored structures – from a conference hall at his 1100 elaborate palace complex in Ankara. “May it bring good fortune,” Erdogan said during the televised event.

Muslim worshippers perform evening prayer in a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

The decisions to transform Haghia Sophia and the Chora back into mosques were seen as moves geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party amid an economic downturn.

In 2020, Erdogan joined hundreds of worshipers for the first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia in 86 years, brushing aside international criticism and calls for the monument to be kept as a museum. As many as 350,000 took part in the prayers outside the structure.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

People visit a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
People walk through downtown Skopje, North Macedonia, on Monday, May 6, 2024. Voters go to the polls on Wednesday in North Macedonia to cast ballots for parliamentary election and presidential runoff, for the second time in two weeks. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
A visitor takes photographs during her visit to a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
People visit a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
People visit a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A visitor takes photographs during her visit to a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A Muslim cleric walks along a former Byzantine church which formally opened as a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 6, 2024. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally opened a former Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it a Muslim house of prayer, despite criticism from neighboring Greece. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

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