Greek officials say reading of Koran at sacred Turkish landmark ‘incomprehensible’

Greek-officials-say-reading-of-Koran-at-sacred-Turkish-landmark-incomprehensible.  ISTANBUL, Turkey,  Greek foreign affairs ministry officials expressed opposition and disappointment in the Turkish government this week, for its allowing the reading of prayers from the Koran at a former religious landmark that remains sacred to both Christians and Muslims.

Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985, was formerly a Christian church, a Greek Orthodox cathedral and Imperial Ottoman mosque before it became a secular museum in 1935. The landmark is recognizable around the world for its iconic dome and unique architecture. File Photo by Mehmet Cetin/Shutterstock

The first prayer was read at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine cathedral, on Monday to mark the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In addition to those in attendance, faithful throughout the heavily Islamic nation also listened to the prayers via broadcast by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.

Hagia Sophia, recognizable around the world for its large dome, was originally a Christian church and a Greek Orthodox cathedral centuries ago before it became an imperial mosque when the Ottoman Empire took power in the 15th century. It was turned into a secular museum in 1935 and designated a UNESCO world heritage site50 years later.

As Hagia Sophia is considered a sacred site to many for its history, Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the prayer readings by saying they are inappropriate for such a revered and now-secular landmark.

“We condemn as regressive the Turkish authorities’ announcement of the scheduling of a Koran reading in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, on the occasion of Ramadan,” the ministry said in a statement Monday.

“Obsessions, verging on bigotry, with Muslim rituals in a monument of world cultural heritage are incomprehensible and reveal a lack of respect for and connection with reality,” the ministry added. “Such actions are not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies”

Another Greek politician said the prayers amount to “disrespect against Orthodox Christians across the world.”

Turkish officials, though, decided last month to allow the Muslim prayers and broadcasts at the site, which is now a heritage museum, until the end of the month.

“Since the United States are siding with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], and Germany has clung to the [Armenian] genocide lie, friendship has shifted,” Samil Tayyar, a deputy for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, tweeted last week. “It’s our turn. [Hagia] Sophia should be open for worship.”

Tayyar was referring to a resolution passed by Germany last week that considered mass killings of Americans by Ottoman Turks in World War I a genocide. The declaration upset the Turkish government, which responded by recalling its ambassadors from Berlin.

Ramadan, a holy month of of fasting that commemorates the first revelation of the Koran to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, runs through July 5.

By Doug G. Ware