ANKARA – Without mentioning that the ancient church of Aghia Sophia was turned into a mosque, Turkey is upset that a mosque on Rhodes built during the four-century Ottoman Occupation of Greece became a music school.
Turkey’s pro-government The Daily Sabah newspaper that parrots the policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Greece was converting other Turkish-built structures and complained about it.
The Murat Reis Mosque on the island of Rhodes had been used for Muslim religious services but there was no mention of the Greek government building and paying for an official mosque for Muslims in Athens.
Instead, the paper said that the Rhodes mosque changed use “is the latest in Greece’s efforts to destroy its Muslim Turkish heritage as the tensions with its neighbor Turkey escalate.”
It didn’t mention that the provocations are coming from Turkey, which regularly violates Greek airspace, plans to hunt for oil and gas off Greek islands and demanded that Greece remove troops from Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.
Pointing to the Rhodes example, the paper said that, “The policy manifests itself as the purchase of historical buildings from foundations running them and their purported ‘restoration,’ which mostly serves to delete its original identity.”
It noted that following Greece’s independence, many Ottoman buildings were converted into military prisons, cinemas, provincial offices, hostels and storage units and that dozens of mosques were closed to worship, while others were converted to churches.
“The Fethiye Mosque in Athens, built in 1458, is currently being used as an exhibition hall. The city’s Tzisdaraki Mosque has also been repurposed as a ceramics museum. Meanwhile, in the country’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, the Hamza Bey Mosque – the oldest in the city – has been closed due to restoration work aiming to transform the building into a museum,” the report said.
It added: “The iconic building, which was constructed in 1467, was previously converted into a movie theater. The city’s Alaca Imaret Mosque, which is very nearly just as old, has also been turned into a museum.”
The report also said that Thessaloniki’s Yeni Mosque – built in 1904 – has long been closed to worship, with its minaret destroyed after the city was incorporated into modern Greece.
“At the same time, the White Tower, one of the most important Ottoman monuments in Thessaloniki, is promoted as a “Byzantine work” and symbol of the city,” the lament went.
Dr. Neval Konuk, who studies Ottoman heritage in the Balkans, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) that Murat Reis mosque was originally a cemetery for “martyrs” or Ottoman soldiers who died during the conquest of the island by Ottoman forces in 1522.
“Over time, the complex turned into a center for Muslims here, where they hosted religious wedding ceremonies and other religious conventions,” she said.
After the passing of Şaban Kargınlıoğlu, volunteer custodian of the mosque, in 2018, the local board for historic monuments seized the place and over time, it was converted into a school, Konuk said. “This is great damage to cultural heritage and a great disrespect to the religion of a community,” she added.
She said Greece also resorted to the practice of not recording Ottoman-era buildings into official building registers. “You cannot find any Ottoman-Turkish structure in their register, neither on the mainland nor in the islands. They register it as ‘Muslim heritage.’ It is either a ‘Muslim fountain’ or a ‘Muslim library.’ So, it can easily deny it has any Ottoman heritage,” she said.