The Hindu

Turkey to convert another former church to mosque

Kariye Museum includes elements of multiple cultures


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ordered another ancient Orthodox church that became a mosque and then a popular Istanbul museum to be turned back into a place of Muslim worship.

The decision to transform the Kariye Museum into a mosque came just a month after a similarly controvers­ial conversion for the UNESCO World Heritage-recognised Hagia Sophia.

Both changes reflect Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to galvanise his more conservati­ve and nationalis­t supporters at a time when Turkey is suffering a new spell of inflation and economic uncertaint­y caused by the virus.

But they have added to Turkey’s tensions with Greece and its Orthodox Church.

Greece’s objection

The Greek Foreign Ministry called the decision “yet another provocatio­n against religious persons everywhere” by the Turkish government.

The 1,000-year-old building’s history closely mirrors that of the Hagia Sophia — its bigger neighbour on the historic western bank of the Golden Horn estuary on the European side of Istanbul.

The Holy Saviour in Chora was a medieval Byzantine church decorated with 14thcentur­y frescoes of the Last Judgment that remain treasured in the Christian world.

It was originally converted into the Kariye Mosque half a century after the 1453 conquest of Constantin­ople by the Ottoman Turks.

It became the Kariye Museum

after Second World War as Turkey pushed ahead with the creation of a more secular new republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

A group of American art historians then helped restore the original church’s mosaics and opened them up for public display in 1958.

But Mr. Erdogan is placing an ever greater political emphasis on the battles that resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans.

Approved by court

Turkey’s top administra­tive court approved the museum’s conversion into a mosque in November.

“It’s a place steeped in history which holds a lot of symbolism for a lot of different people,” said French tourist Frederic Sicard outside the building. “For me, (these conversion­s) are a little difficult to understand and to follow. But we would visit if it were a mosque. We might just have to arrange visits around prayer times.”

The sandy-coloured structure visible today replaced one created as a part of a monastery in the fourth century when Constantin­ople was the new capital of the Roman Empire.

It features a minaret in one corner and small cascading domes similar to those of other grand mosques whose calls to prayer echo over Istanbul.

Frescoes and mosaics

But inside it is filled with magnificen­t frescoes and mosaics that represent some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in the Christian world.

Turkey’s tumultuous efforts to reconcile these two histories form the underpinni­ngs of the country’s contempora­ry politics and social life.

Opposition HDP party lawmaker Garo Paylan called the transforma­tion “a shame for our country”.

“One of the symbols of our country’s deep, multicultu­ral identity and multirelig­ious history has been sacrificed,” he said in a tweet.

 ?? AFP ■ ?? Tourism goes on: A tourist at the Chora or Kariye Museum in Istanbul on Friday.
AFP ■ Tourism goes on: A tourist at the Chora or Kariye Museum in Istanbul on Friday.

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