Turkey: Bartholomew I says Hagia Sophia should stay a museum

Orthodox patriarch nixes possible conversion into a mosque

19 February, 15:56

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, FEBRUARY 19 - Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I on Tuesday said he strongly opposes to plans to reconvert Istanbul's Hagia Sofia Basilica into a mosque, which are currently being debated by the Turkish parliament.

''We want Santa Sofia to remain a museum. It was a Christian church for over 1,000 years,'' Milliyet daily cited the patriarch as saying. ''If it is to be reconsecrated, then it should go back to being a Christian church, since it was not built to be a mosque.'' A petition to reconvert the basilica into a mosque was submitted last month to the Turkish parliament, where Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds an absolute majority. The world's most famous Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia was finished in 537 AD, becoming a mosque in 1453 with the Ottoman conquest. The founding father of modern secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, made it into a museum in 1935.

Turkey's secular opposition accuses the premier of harboring a ''secret plan'' to Islamicize the country. At least 17,000 new mosques have been built during Erdogan's decade in power, according to Milliyet. The government recently announced it is transforming the ancient Hagia Sophia Basilica of Trabzon, on the Black Sea, into a mosque. It is currently a museum, and is decorated with historic Byzantine frescoes. (ANSAmed).

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