Istanbul, Hagia Sophia

”Not a single mosque remains in Athens” Erdoğan replies to Greece

Turkey accuses Greece of intolerance, after it described as “disturbing” the acts for the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, and the recitation of verses from the Koran in Hagia Sophia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to criticism from Greece on Sunday for reading passages from the Koran in Hagia Sophia during the celebrations for the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, recalling that in Athens there is not a single mosque of all built by the Ottomans, since all of them have been destroyed.

“Not a single mosque of ours still stands in Athens. They were all demolished to the ground. But we did not resort to such methods in a city like Istanbul,” Erdoğan stressed, referring to the celebratory events held on May 29 in Istanbul for the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of ancient Constantinople.

“Our mosques and symbolic monuments built in places where we lived a century ago (like Athens), were destroyed in a very short time,” insisted the Turkish president. “(On the contrary) Hagia Sophia was opened (as a mosque) to Muslims by right of conquest, making it even more beautiful instead of demolishing it because of religious hatred,” he said.

Erdoğan further recalled that other non-Islamic places of worship in Istanbul were preserved and maintained by the Ottomans to meet the religious needs of the city’s non-Muslim population. “This alone is enough to demonstrate the magnanimity of our ancestors,” he said.

Tension between Greece and Turkey for the conquest of Constantinople

His words came as a result of the controversy unleashed in the last days after during the celebrations for the anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, passages from the Koran were recited inside Saint Sophia, an ancient Byzantine basilica of the 6th century converted into a mosque by the Ottomans after capturing the city, and which for almost a century has functioned as a non-religious museum.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy also responded to accusations from the Greek government -which called the celebrations “disturbing”- accusing Athens of making “vague and useless statements” on the events, and assured that the comments and Greece’s discomfort was a sign of its “intolerant mentality“.

“The fact that Greece, the only country in Europe without a mosque in its capital, is upset by the recitation of the Holy Quran in Hagia Sophia, is an example that illustrates the intolerant mentality of this country, especially at a time when calls to prayer can be heard in minarets in Europe, and that the importance of the principle of mutual respect is increasingly valuable,” Aksoy said in a statement.

“Turkey has acted neither against the monumental status of Hagia Sophia, nor against the 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage,” he said, responding to the arguments put forward by Greece to justify its protests.

“On the contrary, thanks to Turkey’s care and attention to the historical sites of Istanbul, these places have survived for present generations as cultural heritage,” insisted the Turkish foreign spokesman, further criticising the “recent attempts by certain groups in Greece” to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to stop the call to prayer in Western Thrace, a region of Greece inhabited for centuries by a Muslim minority.