Ancient Byzantine Church Turned Into Mosque in Turkey

It was in Turkey that the followers of Jesus were called "Christians" for the first time in history, but this nation is making efforts to erase its Christian past, as reflected in the conversion of an ancient Byzantine church into a mosque.

The Hagia Sophia Museum, a former Greek Orthodox church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, was used this month for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan, reports International Business Times.

The mufti of Trabzon was joined by local Muslim residents for the Islamic prayers in the 13th century church building on July 5. The Christian murals have been covered with curtains, and the bell dome is being used as a minaret.

"The population of this city consists of Muslims. If the majority are Muslims, the places of worship need to be mosques. Suppose that the majority of this city was Christians or Jews, would they keep this place as a museum?" Adnan Ertem, the General Director of Foundations, was quoted as saying.

The Association of Archaeologists in Turkey is not happy with the move, which is being seen as an attempt by the ruling "Islamic-oriented" Justice and Development (locally known as AK) party to erase the Christian past and revive the Ottoman heritage. "To destroy the properties of a museum like Hagia Sophia, which could be a candidate for world cultural heritage, is a crime against universal culture and humanity," the Association said.

The church, one of a few dozen Byzantine sites still existent in the area and regarded as one of the finest examples of its architecture, dates back to the 13th century when Trabzon was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond.

The conversion of the church took place after a local court agreed last year with the claim of the General Directorate of the Pious Foundations that the church building belonged to the foundation of Mehmet II and had been "illegally occupied" by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

While a lawsuit has been filed to reverse the move, some fear the church's conversion could raise demands for the conversion also of its grander namesake in Istanbul.

"There are enough mosques in Trabzon, half of them empty, what was the need?" Economist quotes Zeki Bakar, a neighbourhood councillor, as saying.

Turkey, which was the birthplace of numerous Christian Apostles and Saints, had historically embraced Westernization and secularism, banning religion from the public square and bringing it under state control. However, the AK party is apparently seeking to align with Middle-Eastern and other Muslim nations.

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