Hagia Sophia mosque reconversion is 'proof of weakness': Greece

Hagia Sophia mosque reconversion is 'proof of weakness': Greece
Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Hagia Sophia is in the hearts of Orthodox Christians 'more than ever' as thousands attended the site's first Muslim prayers in decades.
3 min read
Istanbuls' Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site [Getty]

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque by Turkey is "proof of weakness", Greece's prime minister said Friday as churches around the country went into mourning at the controversial move.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday led the first Muslim prayers attended by thousands in Hagia Sophia since the controversial reconversion of the iconic Istanbul cathedral into a mosque.

"What is happening in (Istanbul) this day is not a show of force, but proof of weakness," Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement.

He said the reconversion "lacks the power to diminish the radiance of a global heritage monument".

"Especially to us Orthodox Christians, Hagia Sophia today is in our hearts more than ever. It is where our heart beats," Mitsotakis said.

At midday, churches around Greece rang their bells, their flags at half-mast to protest against what the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, called an "unholy act of defiling" the former Byzantine Empire cathedral.

"(Today) is a day of mourning for all of... Christianity," Ieronymos said.

The archbishop said he would hold a special service at the Athens Metropolis in the evening and chant the Akathist Hymn in honour of the Virgin Mary.

According to Greek tradition, the same service was held in Hagia Sophia on the eve of the Byzantine Empire capital's fall to the Ottomans in 1453.

Hagia Sophia is "a symbol of our faith and a universal monument of culture," Ieronymos said.

Religious and nationalist groups will hold protests in Athens and Thessaloniki later Friday.

One of the architectural wonders of the world, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul was the main cathedral of the Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

The Council of State, Turkey's highest administrative court, on July 10 unanimously cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and said Hagia Sophia was registered as a mosque in its property deeds.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then ordered the sixth-century monument to reopen for Muslim worship, deeply angering the Christian community and further straining relations with NATO ally Greece.

Read more: Thousands gather at Hagia Sophia for first Muslim prayers in 86 years

Erdogan went ahead with the plan despite appeals from the United States and Russia and condemnation by France and Pope Francis.

Greece's culture ministry has called it "a provocation to the civilised world".

Hagia Sophia in 2007 was on a shortlist of global architectural wonders selected by nearly 100 million internet and telephone voters.

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