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Some Christians see Turkey’s Hagia Sophia move as attempt to expand Islam

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is, of course, correct when she says that by converting Hagia Sophia to a mosque, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “is telling the Kemalists: Your interlude was a parenthesis.” With that comes a situation for Christians and other religious minorities that is even more precarious than it already was.

The conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque was just one of many examples of the contempt for Christianity and Christians that the Turkish government has recently manifested. Here at we have covered many instances of the persecution of Christians in Turkey and manifestations of official contempt for its rich Christian heritage, as well as for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining Christians of that country: see here.

The full statement of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the conversion of Hagia Sophia is here.

“Some Christians see Turkey’s Hagia Sophia move as attempt to expand Islam,” The Catholic Universe, July 29, 2020:

Catholics and other Christians are upset by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conversion of Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a functioning mosque where Muslim Friday prayers were recited recently.

Many observers see the controversial move as part of Erdogan’s bigger attempt to re-enact the Ottoman Empire expansionism in the Middle East by pushing his Islamist agenda.

“I was very much shocked by the news that Hagia Sophia had become a mosque. It’s a provocative act,” Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a noted Egyptian Catholic theologian and Islamic studies scholar, told Catholic News Service.

“This monument from the sixth century belongs to the whole world. It is in Turkey, but it belongs to those who built it, the Christians, and for a time Islam took it. I’m sure the decision will play against Erdogan, even in the Muslim world,” said Fr Samir, who founded the Arab Christian Documentation and Research Center in Beirut and taught at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome….

“What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople told The Washington Post of Erdogan’s action.

The spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide reaffirmed that in Istanbul “we have survived for 17 centuries and we will stay here forever, as God wills”….

“This move confirms the inseparability of political and religious sphere of Islam,” noted a Catholic priest who has served for several years in Turkey, but who wished to have his name withheld.

“The big deal is to repeat, or reinvent what happened at the conquest of Constantinople; the victory of Islam over every culture and religion existing before it. It certainly concerns the past and it might concern the future,” he told CNS. “It means once again that the leadership of Turkey is choosing the way of political Islam, which is irreconcilable with any other political reality.”

Dominican Fr Alberto Fabio Ambrosio, a specialist in the history of Ottoman Sufism, agrees, saying that “in this perspective, it impacts the relation between religions, the interreligious dialogue”.

But Fr Ambrosio, a professor of theology and history of religions at Luxembourg School of Religion and Society, adds that Erdogan, an avowed Islamist, is playing to his own populace, “the most Islamic traditionalist part of the country. He is saying to Turkey and to the entire world that a part of the Kemalism culture or ideology (Ataturk’s secularism) is definitely dead”.

“He is telling the Kemalists: Your interlude was a parenthesis,” Elizabeth Prodromou told the Wall St. Journal. Prodromou, who works with the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said Erdogan envisions Turkey displacing Saudi Arabia as leader of the Sunni Muslim religious world.

“This decision shows the idea of pan-Ottomanism, or the New Ottomanism project begun by Erdogan and former Prime Minister (Ahmet) Davutoglu,” Fr Ambrosio told CNS. But Davutoglu has mounted his own criticism of Erdogan, accusing him of failing to manage Turkey’s faltering economy and corruption. He said Erdogan has failed to disclose the whereabouts of 110 billion Turkish liras (more than $16 billion).

Turkey’s internal problems may also explain Erdogan’s adventurism abroad, entangling its military in Syria’s longstanding conflict by employing Islamist militants such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida to fight Kurds, Christians and Yazidis there. Erdogan is also sending Turkish and Syrian fighters to Libya and Yemen, in a bid to resurrect Ottoman Turkish dominance over Arab lands, but Fr Samir says the Arabs want none of it.

“He would like to create a new caliphate,” said Fr Samir. “Erdogan is someone who pretends to be the greatest ‘king’ in the Middle East, while at the same time provoking a lot of Arabs and Muslims against him.”…

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