Erdogan confirms ancient Istanbul church converted to mosque

Greek PM appeals against the conversion of the Holy Saviour in Chora, as Turkish president says Kariye mosque will remain open to everyone

By AFP

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A visitor walks inside the ancient Orthodox church now converted as the Kariye Mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: AFP
A visitor walks inside the ancient Orthodox church now converted as the Kariye Mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: AFP

Published: Mon 13 May 2024, 9:58 PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday confirmed the reopening of a mosque in Istanbul converted from an ancient Byzantine Orthodox church, in the face of Greek protests.

Erdogan discussed the church in a meeting in Ankara with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on a trip that was meant to strengthen the countries' relations.


"The Kariye mosque in its new form will remain open to everyone," Erdogan told a news conference alongside the Greek leader.

"We have opened our Kariye mosque for worship and visits after painstaking restoration work."


Mitsotakis had appealed against the conversion of the Holy Saviour in Chora, decorated with 14th-century frescoes of the Last Judgement that are still treasured by Christians.

He complained to Erdogan about the latest move.

"I discussed with Mr. Erdogan the conversion... I expressed my dissatisfaction to him," the Greek premier said after meeting with the Turkish leader.

"It is very important to preserve the unique cultural value of this monument, which is listed as UNESCO world heritage, so that it can remain accessible to all visitors."

A visitor stands inside the ancient Orthodox church now converted as the Kariye Mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: AFP
A visitor stands inside the ancient Orthodox church now converted as the Kariye Mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: AFP

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

It became the Kariye Museum after World War II, when Turkey sought to create a more secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan in 2020 ordered the building to be reconverted into a Muslim place of worship.

His order came followed a similarly controversial ruling on the UNESCO-protected Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul.

At the time of the Kariye Mosque's reopening on May 6, Greece's foreign affairs ministry called the move a "provocation".

Erdogan said on Monday he attached "great importance" to "protecting any monument that constitutes an item of UNESCO cultural heritage and to making it accessible for the benefit of our nation and all humanity."

Worshippers look at the covered frescoes before they attend an afternoon prayer at Chora Museum or Kariye Mosque. — Photo: Reuters
Worshippers look at the covered frescoes before they attend an afternoon prayer at Chora Museum or Kariye Mosque. — Photo: Reuters

The changes were seen as part of Erdogan's efforts to galvanise his more conservative and nationalist supporters. Erdogan's ruling AKP party has Islamist roots.

Despite the disagreement, the two leaders said they were working to normalise relations after decades of tension.

Erdogan called it an "extremely productive, honest and constructive meeting".

A tourist visits the Chora Museum or Kariye mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: Reuters file
A tourist visits the Chora Museum or Kariye mosque in Istanbul. — Photo: Reuters file

"We think that strengthening the spirit of cooperation between Turkey and Greece will be beneficial for both countries and for the region," Erdogan said.

He said the two sides had agreed to raise their bilateral trade from $6 billion to $10 billion.

"We have shown that, besides existing disagreements, we can turn over a new leaf," Mitsotakis said.

"We wish to intensify our bilateral contact. We continue on a positive path."

The two countries signed a cooperation agreement on disaster and emergency management, following a devastating earthquake in Turkey in February and forest fires in Greece last year.



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