An angry war of words has erupted between Greece and Turkey after Turkish authorities permitted a daily Koran reading to be broadcast from Turkey’s famous Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine cathedral.
Turkish national broadcaster TRT Diyanet will broadcast the sahur or Islamic predawn meal along with daily readings from the Koran during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan which began Monday.
Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the move in a statement calling it “bigotry” and “not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies.”
“Muslim rituals in a monument of world cultural heritage are incomprehensible and reveal a lack of respect for and connection with reality,” the statement said.
Dora Bakoyannis, a Greek politician and former minister of foreign affairs said the decision to hold Islamic prayers there essentially turns the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, in a “provocative and incomprehensible act,” showing “disrespect against Orthodox Christians across the world.”
Last month thousands of Muslim worshipers led by an Imam, crowded around the Hagia Sophia, demanding the right to pray there, according to Turkish media.
The Hagia Sophia, famous around the world for its large, iconic dome was originally a cathedral in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but when the Ottoman empire defeated them in the 15th century, the church was turned into a mosque.
During the reign of Turkey’s progressive President Mustafa Atatürk the building was converted into a museum in 1935.
Supporters of a secular Turkey have feared that under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning reign, the Hagia Sophia could be transformed back into a mosque.
In 1985 UNESCO designated the Hagia Sophia a world heritage site.