Turkish President Recep Erdogan on Friday ordered another old Orthodox church, which became a mosque and then a popular Istanbul museum, to be converted back into a place of Muslim worship.
The decision to convert the Kariye Museum into a mosque was made just a month after a similarly controversial renovation for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hagia Sophia.
Both changes reflect Erdogan's efforts to motivate his more conservative and nationalist supporters at a time when Turkey is suffering from a new phase of inflation and economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.
But they have contributed to Turkey's tensions with Greece and its Orthodox Church.
The Greek Foreign Ministry called the decision "another provocation against religious people everywhere" by the Turkish government.
Pictured: The Kariye Museum or Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey, is being converted into a place of Muslim worship on behalf of President Erdogan. The change was announced on Friday
Pictured: A priest (L) and a woman visit the Chora or Kariye Museum in Istanbul, officially the Church of the Holy Savior, a medieval Byzantine Greek Orthodox church of worship on August 21
The history of the 1000 year old building mirrors that of Hagia Sophia – its larger neighbor on the historic west bank of the mouth of the Golden Horn on the European side of Istanbul.
The Holy Savior in Chora was a medieval Byzantine church adorned with 14th century frescoes of the Last Judgment that are still cherished in the Christian world.
It was originally converted into the Kariye Mosque half a century after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
It became the Kariye Museum after World War II when Turkey pushed the creation of a more secular new republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
A group of American art historians then helped restore the original church's mosaics and opened it to the public in 1958.
However, Erdogan puts an increasing political emphasis on the battles that led to the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans.
Pictured: Today the fifth Friday prayer is being performed in the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Hagia Sophia after it has reopened for services in Istanbul for the first time in 86 years
Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage Site, was transformed into a place of Muslim worship earlier this month to the outcry of many people in the Christian world
Turkey's highest administrative court approved the conversion of the museum into a mosque in November.
"It is a place steeped in history that has many symbols for many different people," said 48-year-old French tourist Frederic Sicard in front of the building.
“For me (these conversions) are a little difficult to understand and follow. But we would visit if it was a mosque. We may only need to arrange visits at prayer times. & # 39;
The sand-colored structure visible today replaced a structure created as part of a monastery in the fourth century when Constantinople was the new capital of the Roman Empire.
In one corner is a minaret and small cascading domes resembling those of other large mosques whose calls to prayer echo over Istanbul.
The changes reflect Turkish President Erdogan's efforts to motivate his more conservative and nationalist supporters as Turkey struggles with a new flare of inflation and economic uncertainty due to the coronavirus crisis
But inside there are 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 stories form the basis of contemporary politics and social life in the country.
The opposition HDP party founder Garo Paylan called the transformation a "shame for our country".
"One of the symbols of our country's deep multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed," he said in a tweet.
However, some locals fully supported the change.
"There are dozens, hundreds of churches and synagogues in Istanbul, and only a few of them have been opened as mosques for prayers," said Yucel Sahin as he strolled past the building after the morning rain. There is a lot of tolerance in our culture. & # 39;
Last week, the Turkish president threatened retaliatory measures against Greece after suspecting a Turkish ship had been attacked in the waters contested by the two nations.
The claim came hours after France sent two warships backed by fighter planes into the region to aid Greece.
Erogan spoke at an event marking the 19th anniversary of the President's AK Party that the Greek armed forces had received "their first response" to an earlier warning not to attack a Turkish ship.
The ship – the Oruc Reis – searches for oil and gas between Cyprus and the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
In his first warning, Erdogan said attackers would "pay a heavy price" but did not elaborate on what that might mean.
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