Turkey’s Islamist President and wannabe Khalifa, Erdoğan is hell-bent on putting the Christian and Muslim worlds on a collision course. A month after reconverting the ancient Hagia Sophia-turned-Mosque-turned-Museum into a Mosque all over again, Erdoğan has now targeted yet another Orthodox Church (now Kariye Museum) in Istanbul. The heritage building stands converted into a Mosque all over again.
But while Kariye and its bigger neighbour Hagia Sophia stand reconverted as a means of asserting the Ottoman conquest and the revival of Ottoman brutality in the Ancient and Medieval era, Turkey has a shameful history of desecration.
Ancient Christian Churches and buildings have been invariably targeted by Turkey’s Islamist forces and the government. Christians have been virtually wiped out and now comprise only 0.2 per cent of the Turkish population, giving the Islamists a free pass to take over the remaining Christian structures in the country.
Assistant Professor of Communications at Kastamonu University, Ersoy Soydan, who authored Churches and Monasteries in Turkey is an expert on the subject of religious sites in Turkey. He has disclosed that nine Hagia Sophia churches have either been converted into Mosques or are already in the process of being converted.
Hagia Sophia churches are the most important of all religious sites in the Eastern Roman culture. It roughly translates to Holy wisdom in Greek. The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople that was reconverted recently was the most important Church of the region as it used to be the main seat of the Greek Orthodox Church. But Turkey has targeted every single Hagia Sophia Church.
The youngest of these Hagia Sophia Churches to be converted into a Mosque on July 28 is located in the city of Trabzon. The building has had a similar history as the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was built in the Greek era, invaded and abused by the Ottomans in 1461, later converted into a Museum in 1964 and now reconverted by Erdoğan into a Mosque.
The desecration of Churches by Turkey is well-documented. The destruction of Churches reached its zenith after the genocide of an estimated 4 million Christians by Ottoman Turkey from 1894 to 1924. Even after the Ottoman Empire collapsed and a seemingly secular Turkey was founded, the abuse or conversion of Churches for various purposes continued relentlessly.
Turkey has exported its culture of desecrating Churches to even Cyprus. Turkey invaded the island country in 1974 and continues to illegally occupy one-third of its territory until today. Cypriots were, of course, ejected from their territories and thus started the process of Turkish subversion of Christian buildings in Cyprus.
According to a 2012 report by Cypriot historic preservationists, “The churches have been subjected to the most violent and systematic desecration and destruction.” Not just reconversions into Mosques, ancient Churches and Monasteries in Cyprus have been also converted into places of entertainment, hotels and army barracks. The remains and the cultural heritage of these Churches have been also looted by Turkish smugglers who sell Christian paintings and mosaics recovered from these Churches in the international markets.
Present-day Turkey is the cultural root of Christianity and eastern Roman culture, notwithstanding the declining Christian population in present-day Turkey. Some of the most significant apostles and saints in the Christian tradition were born in Turkey and even the Seven Churches of Asia are located in this country. In the Ancient era, Turkey was the location of Christian clergy or organisation.
But the Ottoman invasion started a brutal process of dismantling the Christian heritage of Turkey. The Christian remnants in Turkey are now gradually being wiped out with an Islamist President at the helm of affairs. While the Hagia Sophia might be making all the news, Turkey has a long, shameful history of desecration that has uprooted an entire Ancient culture from the face of the earth.