An international war of words is taking place across the Aegean over Turkey’s decision to allow daily Kuran readings to take place at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a United Nations World Heritage site and museum.
Sacred to Greeks and Christians throughout the world as the largest Orthodox Christian Church in the world for almost a thousand years and long a symbol of Hellenism to Greeks everywhere, Hagia Sophia has become a contentious issue between Greeks and Turks.
Turkey’s decision to hold daily Quran readings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked outrage from the Greek foreign ministry in a statement.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic fired back that Greece should show “good sense” and criticized Greece for what he called suppression of the rights of its “Turkish” minority in northeastern Greece.
He also reminded Greece that efforts to build a mosque in Athens have been blocked by successive governments for years.
“We call on Greece, which has not allowed the establishment of a mosque in its capital for years and continuously interferes with the religious freedoms of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace and mixes anti-Islamism with modernity, for common sense in its statements and stance,” Bilgic’s statement said.
“We must also keep in mind that the values of contemporary, democratic and secular societies include respect for other religions and prayers,” Bilgic said.
Greece does not recognize its Muslim population located predominantly around the city of Xanthi in northeastern Greece as ethnically Turkish, instead referring to them as a religious (Muslim) minority.
Similar controversy erupted in 2014 when thousands of Muslims were bussed in to Istanbul and prayed outside Hagia Sophia, calling for the museum’s conversion into a mosque.