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Guest Viewpoints

Letter on Churches in Turkey to Trump and Pompeo from Frosene and Steve Zeis

September 5, 2020

ASHEVILLE, NC – Entrepreneurs and philanthropists Frosene and Steve Zeis sent a letter to President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concerning the recent conversions of churches into mosques in Turkey. Steve Zeis came to the United States from Constantinople in 1957 to attend NCSU and he and his wife Frosene moved to Asheville, NC in 1965.

The full text of their letter follows:

Dear President Trump:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-converted last month the Aghia Sophia church/museum to a mosque. Several days ago the church/museum of Christ the Savior at Chora Monastery was re-converted to a mosque.

Both of these monuments are world heritage sites. Like Aghia Sophia, the Church of Christ the Savior are rich in mosaic iconography and frescoes. These works of art belong to the world heritage. Based on the events so far one begins to question which Byzantine monument in Turkey will fall victim of this mentality next. Because of their historical past (churches for almost 1,000 years and mosques for almost 600 years) emotions and convictions of both faiths reside deeply within the multifaceted walls of these two magnificent Gifts to Humanity and Freedom of Religion. These world heritage sites are dear to both Christians and Muslims and must remain beacons of religious pluralism, peaceful coexistence, and mutual accommodation. 

Christianity and Islam lived together in Turkey side by side, believing and praying to God according to their own unique beliefs and cultural backgrounds. This has happened over the last 500 years, twenty of which I lived as a Turkish citizen of Rum decent (derived from the Greek word for Roman, Romaio) in Istanbul and we question, why stop now? Respecting Freedom of Religion and Human Rights would be prudent for both sides to explore the possibility and arrive at an amicable understanding where both Muslims and Christians can share these places of worship at agreed intervals of time contemporaneously.

The solution might be complex but not impossible if the international community and organizations such as UNESCO, USCIRT and others approach the Turkish authorities and reason together. When Christians use their allocated time to pray in Aghia Sophia it is a Christian Church, when Muslims use the edifices to pray it is a Mosque. And, Aghia Sophia and the Church of Christ the Savior in Chora Monastery continue as museums bridging the two cultures.

Thank you very much for your contributions toward this endeavor.

Frosene and Steve Zeis

Asheville, NC

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