Turkey: Greek Chora Church to be Converted into a Mosque; Is Hagia Sophia the Next?

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By Uzay Bulut

The Turkish Council of State recently approved a decision on the “Kariye Museum.” Originally a Byzantine Greek church in Constantinople (Istanbul), it was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks. According to the new ruling, the former church is to be converted into a mosque again.

This decision could also pave the way for the conversion of Hagia Sophia, built as a basilica and now a museum, into a mosque, according to a report published on November 5 by the pro-government Turkish newspaper, Yeni Safak.

“Through a decision by the Council of Ministers on August 29, 1945, many mosques and masjids, including the Kariye Mosque, were allocated to the Ministry of National Education as museums and museum depots whose maintenance and repair expenses were to be paid from the state budget,” said the newspaper.

However, to overturn the change-of-status of Kariye Museum, the Association of Permanent Foundations and Service to Historical Artifacts and the Environment filed a lawsuit in 2005, requesting the cancellation of the decision.

According to Yeni Safak, the final verdict of the Council of State noted that;

“The Kariye mosque… is one of the public immovables belonging to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation.

“Immovables are public property established for direct charitable services such as places of worship, hospitals, and soup kitchens, and the provisions of private property cannot be applied to them. These charitable public immovables cannot be allocated to be used for a purpose other than the use specified by the [Fatih sultan Mehmet] Foundation.”

The Kariye Museum, however, was originally an Orthodox Church, namely the Chora Church. According to the official website of Princeton University:

“Described by Osterhaut as ‘second in renown only to Hagia Sophia among the Byzantine churches of Istanbul’, Kariye Camii [Mosque] attracts much attention because of its rich mosaics and frescoes. The original structure was built by the Holy Theodus in 534 in the reign of Justinian. In the 11th and 12th centuries, it was rebuilt by the Comnenus family and dedicated to Christ (thus the name, Christ in Chora). The structure suffered the great earthquake of 1296 and was later converted into a mosque in 1511 after the Turks conquered Istanbul. Since 1948, the building has been the Kariye Museum, a popular tourist attraction.”

However, Yeni Safak claims that “The decision by the State Council, which paves the way for the Kariye [Museum] to be a mosque again after 74 years, will be a precedent for Hagia Sophia, which is the subject of constant debate.”

*Inside Hagia Sophia

This claim is not unrealistic since many Turkish government authorities have publicised their intentions to convert the historic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, at least since 2013. Hagia Sophia (Greek for "Holy Wisdom) was built in the 6th century in Constantinople and remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years until the Ottoman Turks conquered the city and looted it in 1453.

Ironically, according to the recent decision by Turkey’s State Council, “The [Kariye] mosque cannot be used outside of its original function.”

Hence, the larger problem here is that Turkish authorities appear to think that the original function of the former churches/museums was to serve as mosques. They thus completely ignore the Christian roots of the Chora church and countless other churches in the region as well as the Christian history of Constantinople.

To understand the causes of this phenomenon, one needs to comprehend how Islamic scriptures view the kafirs, or infidels. Dr. Bill Warner, the president of the Center for the Study of Political Islam (CSPI), notes:

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Chora Church

“The Koran defines the kafir and kafir is not a neutral word. A kafir is not merely someone who does not agree with Islam, but a kafir is evil, disgusting, the lowest form of life. Kafirs can be tortured, killed, lied to and cheated.

Sympathy allows us to put ourselves in the place of others. This sympathy is outside of Islamic doctrine. In Islamic doctrine those Muslims who are true friends with a Kafir are not truly Islamic.

“My personal opinion is that this lack of sympathy for Kafirs is the worst part of Islam. The Koran places barriers between Muslims and Kafir, which violates the idea of humanity being of one spirit.”

Another belief that shapes the Islamic mindset is its false understanding of history and geography. Moshe Sharon, Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains that the:

"basic attitude is that all history is, in fact, Islamic history... that all major figures of history basically are Muslim − from Adam down to our own time. So, if the Jews or Christians are demanding something and basing it on the fact that there was a king called Solomon or a king called David, or a prophet called Moses or Jesus, they say something which is not true or, in fact, they don't know that all these figures were basically Muslim figures."

Sharon continues:

"In fact, since the creation of the world there is only one religion and it is the religion of Islam. So, if anybody says 'Look, there is a place connected with Solomon and that is the place where the Temple of Solomon stood,' a true Muslim would tell you: "Yes, you're absolutely right. But don't forget that Solomon was a Muslim and David was a Muslim. And Abraham was a Muslim. And Isaac was a Muslim, and Jesus was a Muslim.' This is what they mean by the Islamization of history."

Sharon says that through this "Islamization of history" there is also an "Islamisation of geography," such that:

"Anywhere which was connected with these people or with these prophets who were all Muslims becomes a Muslim territory. And therefore, when Islam was not in that area before Mohammed came to it, it should have been there. By that area, I mean the Middle East or other parts outside of the Middle East which are now Muslim. So any place like this had to be freed, not to be conquered. They had to be liberated. So, Islam appeared in history in the time of Mohammed - or reappeared in history from their point of view - as a liberator. And therefore, there is no Islamic occupation. If somebody occupies anything, it will always be somebody else, not the Muslims. So, there is no Islamic occupation. There is only Islamic liberation."

And in the case of Turks, the concept of “conquest” and taking over non-Muslim lands and properties has a deeply rooted cultural and religious meaning.  Dr. Andrew Bostom, the author of the book The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims, points out the continued Turkish tradition of converting churches into mosques since the Turkish invasion of the Greek Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century.

Dr. Bostom writes about the destruction that took place during the Turkish conquests of Asia Minor, as seen through the prism of the Arab Muslim traveler, Ibn Batouta, and confirmed by Turkish Muslim chroniclers, cited by the great Bulgarian Islamologist Dimitur Angelov:

“One source that is still insufficiently utilized, and which presents a very clear picture of the devastation perpetrated by the Turks in Asia Minor and of the evils endured by the population at the time of the Turkish conquest, is the work of the Arab traveler Ibn Batouta. As everyone knows, Batouta visited the territories in Asia Minor that had been conquered by the Turkish emirs. This journey took place during the summer of 1333, that is to say, a short time after the campaigns undertaken by Orkhan to seize Brousse and Nicea. Batouta visited the most important cities in that country (Nicea, Laodicea, Ephesus, Attalia, Magnesia, Pergamus, etc.), and, being an attentive and conscientious observer, he had the opportunity to see and to hear many things.

“Batouta’s descriptions show us that the ruination caused by the Turkish invasion was quite considerable and that a certain number of towns had been unable to return to normal or else were still completely destroyed. The once-populous city of Pergamus, he writes, was ‘in ruins.’ Most of the port of Smyrna had been destroyed. Nicea, the capital of the Osmanlis Turks, ‘was in ruins and was inhabited only by a very small number of the emir’s subjects.’  In many localities, the Greek population was greatly reduced or had completely disappeared, and the Turks had settled in its place. The Christian churches were destroyed or had been turned into mosques. Such was the case, for example, with the exceptionally beautiful church of Ephesus, where now the worship prescribed by Muhammad was celebrated. What Batouta tells us about the transformation of Christian churches into mosques is confirmed, moreover, by Turkish sources (Seadeddin, Nesri, the anonymous chronicles, etc.)”

This tradition continued after the fall of Constantinople, as well. Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou, professor of history at Salem State University, recounts:

"When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, virtually all of the city's surviving cathedrals and churches were — after being desecrated and thoroughly plundered — forcibly seized and turned over to the Turks' religious establishment to be converted to mosques and used as Muslim properties. The conquering sultan, Mehmet II, personally oversaw the conversion of Hagia Sophia. Crosses were demolished and exchanged for crescents, altars and bells were destroyed, icons were burned or hacked to pieces, mosaics and frescoes depicting Christian imagery were plastered over, and most of the cathedral's priests were killed or enslaved. In time, four colossal minarets were erected to surround Hagia Sophia, producing the iconic image that has come to be globally associated with Ottoman Constantinople and Turkish Istanbul.

"Indeed, the purpose for the construction of the massive minarets that now tower over Hagia Sophia was to project to the world Islam's triumph over Christendom's greatest empire, city, and church. The capture of Hagia Sophia confirmed and symbolized in the Ottomans' imagination their belief in the superiority of their state and faith over all other nations and all religions, a putative affirmation of their providential role and destiny in history. Hence, the Ottomans formally dedicated their greatest, most celebrated single piece of loot — Hagia Sophia — as Great Fatih Mosque, or 'Great Conquest Mosque.'"

During the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews became “dhimmis”, second-class subjects of the empire who had to pay the jizya tax for the so-called protection under Muslim domination. Despite severe persecution at the hands of Ottoman Turks, Greeks of Asia Minor remained a sizable community until the 1912-1922 Greek Genocide. That genocide and the 1955 anti-Greek pogroms in Constantinople, as well as the deportations of the remaining Greeks in 1964, almost completely ended the Greek presence in Turkey. Constantinople’s Greeks, the city's founders and one-time rulers of the land, are now estimated to constitute fewer than 2,000 in a city of about 15 million.

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*Inside Chora Church

Dr.Vassilios Meichanetsidis, a historian and co-editor of the book The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks, told the Greek City Times:

“The conversion of mosques was a sign of Islamic conquest and supremacy towards the conquered and dhimmi peoples. It was a terrible blow to their religious identity, and also to the individual and collective self-dignity, human rights, freedom of worship and self-confidence of the dhimmi peoples. It was widely practised in the times of conquest and throughout the Ottoman period and thus most of the truly superb Byzantine churches were converted into mosques and suffered serious damages.

“Unfortunately, these churches were not given back to their rightful owners - the few remaining Orthodox Christians of the land - during the Kemalist period after the establishment of Turkey in 1923. Instead, they were made museums, a truly unethical act and a serious violation of human rights and religious freedoms on the part of the Turkish state. In many ways, the conversions of churches into mosques or museums area part of a genocidal process in which a physical genocide of human beings (Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians/Arameans) has turned into a cultural genocide.”

For centuries, Greeks were either murdered outright or forced to leave their homeland by Turks and their Muslim allies. Yet, several symbols of the magnificent Greek civilization remain in Turkey. However, Turkish authorities still target them – as is the case with the Chora and Hagia Sophia churches/museums. The answer to this unending persecution and destruction lies in the hate-filled verses in Islamic theology that largely shape Islamic culture, as highlighted by Dr. Warner, the revisionist Islamic history, as illustrated by Dr. Sharon, and the deeply rooted Turkish-Islamic tradition of conquest and looting, as described by Dr. Bostom, Kyrou and Meichanetsidis.

Inspired by this oppressive culture ingrained in many Turks, the Turkish government, a NATO member and a perpetually unsuccessful candidate for European Union membership, continues to randomly violate churches and other non-Muslim places of worship.


ABOUT Uzay Bulut: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in various outlets such as the Gatestone Institute, Washington Times, Christian Post and Jerusalem Post. Bulut’s journalistic work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics, and history, religious minorities in the Middle East and anti-Semitism. Bulut has now also become a contributor for Greek City Times.