Erdogan orders second historic Turkish Christian church building to be turned into a mosque

25 August 2020

Just a month after his controversial repurposing of the UNESCO world-heritage recognised Hagia Sophia basilica, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered another ancient Christian place of worship to be turned back into a mosque.

The presidential decree came on 21 August to transform the St. Saviour in Chora Church building in Istanbul, now Kariye museum, which closely mirrors the history of neighbouring Hagia Sophia Cathedral.

The former Christian orthodox Church of St. Saviour in Chora, in Istanbul, became a museum after the the Second World War

The decision drew criticism from Erdogan’s political opponents and church leaders who said the move will deepen religious divides in the country. Opposition Turkish-Armenian MP, Garo Paylan, called the transformation is "a shame for our country". He added, "One of the symbols of our country's deep, multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed."

The turning over of high-profile Christian heritage sites to Islamic worship are thought to be an aspect Erdogan's efforts to galvanise nationalist support at a time when Turkey is facing post-covid economic uncertainty and a sharp rise in inflation.

The church of St. Saviour in Chora was a medieval church that was later converted to become the Kariye Mosque 50 years after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman armies. The 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian building became the Kariye Museum in 1945, as part of Kemal Ataturk’s drive to secularise the Turkish republic.

Repression of religious minorities is increasing in Muslim-majority Turkey, particularly under Islamist President Erdogan, who has been outspoken about his desire to recreate the Ottoman Empire. Hostility towards Christians has worsened in recent years with the rise of Erdogan’s AKP party. Critics of the government have said that “hate speech” by the government has led to increasing attacks on minority religions.

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