Turkey Reconverts Another Church Into Mosque, Angering Christians And International Leaders

(Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Turkey is turning another church into a mosque a month after President Recep Tayip Erdogan ordered the Hagia Sophia to also be reconverted, numerous sources reported.

Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, a Byzantine church dating back to the 4th century, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority to be turned into a mosque Friday, the AP reported.

The church served as a mosque during the Ottoman Empire before it was turned into a museum in 1945. The church was built near the ancient city walls of Constantinople, and contains 14th century Byzantine mosaics depicting biblical stories that were plastered over by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, but then recovered when the building was turned into a museum.

A court decision in 2019 to cancel the building’s status as a museum, making it’s fate similar to that of the Hagia Sophia, which was turned into a mosque in July, a movie that created a rift between Christians and Islamists. (RELATED: Turkey Decides To Turn Hagia Sophia Museum Into Mosque In Ruling That Christians Say Will ‘Fracture’ East And West)

Greece’s foreign ministry strongly condemned both conversions. Regarding the conversion of the Chora into a mosque, the Greek ministry said the Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another U.N.-listed world heritage site,” according to the AP.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

Erdogan has wielded Hagia Sophia as a way to revive his support for the campaign by nationalist and conservative groups to turn the museum into a mosque. Analysts have interpreted the move as a tactic to divert attention from Turkey’s economic downturn caused by the pandemic, according to Financial Times.

Compounded by the decision to convert the Hagia Sophia, the latest move is likely to inflame further geopolitical tensions, especially among Christians and Turkey.

Elpidophoros, the Greek Orthodox archbishop of America, wrote on Twitter: “After the tragic transgression with Hagia Sophia, now the Monastery of Chora, this exquisite offering of Byzantine culture to the world!”

“The pleas and exhortations of the international community are ignored,” he wrote.

“Erdogan and his government have renewed their attempts to erase the rich Christian heritage of Turkey by converting a second historic Istanbul church into a mosque,” In Defense of Christians, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for persecuted Christians wrote on Twitter.

Many world leaders advised Turkey against the Hagia Sophia conversion. Greece said Turkey risked opening up a “huge emotional chasm” with Christian countries if it continued pushing for the building to be turned into a mosque, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pomepo urged Turkey to maintain Hagia Sophia as a museum. 

Although Chora is a lesser known attraction compared to the Hagia Sophia, the decision to convert another UNESCO World Heritage site is likely to only compound tensions between Turkey and surrounding countries, especially Greece.