For the first time in over 80 years, a muezzin conducted a call to prayer from inside Hagia Sophia on July 2, 2016, one of the most sacred symbols of world Christianity and a building that Turkey’s own founder insisted become a museum– and not a place of worship of any kind.
Although calls to prayer have been happening from Hagia Sophia’s minarets for over four years now, the chanting was done from a prayer room and not inside the historic landmark which Kemal Ataturk, a die-hard secularist and founder of modern Turkey turned into a museum in 1935.
For over a thousand years Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest Christian church, built by the Byzantine Greeks and serving as the center of Eastern Christendom for centuries.
The Greek government responded strongly at what it called Turkey’s “incomprehensible” action.
“We express our intense concern and discomfort at yet another step that undermines the nature of Hagia Sophia as a monument of global cultural heritage and that obviously is not compatible with the principles that should govern a modern, secular state, said spokesman for the Greek foreign ministry.
He added “We have repeatedly stressed, in a series of actions aimed at keeping states and international organs apprised, that the attempt to alter the use of Hagia Sophia – which UNESCO has designated a world heritage site — from museum to mosque is an international issue. An issue of major importance that concerns the protection of the identity of a monument that belongs to global human culture.”
The Greek government’s response concluded with a call to Turey to respect international law and its international obligations.
“This must be realized, first of all, by Turkey. We call on Turkey, once again, to adapt to the requirements of European culture and stop supporting anachronistic and incomprehensible activities. Turkey needs to show, at long last, the requisite respect for international law and the international obligations it has undertaken to respect all of the monuments – Christian and non-Christian – that are within its territory.”
Last month, the government in Ankara permitted the reading of Ramadan prayers from Hagia Sophia, a move that drew international criticism, including from Greece and the U.S. State Department, which said that Turkey should respect Hagia Sophia’s heritage and tradition.