The ongoing controversy over scheduled Moslem prayers at the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia Cathedral, now a museum, ratcheted up on Tuesday when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that Greece has no right to protect the nearly fifteen-hundred year-old former cathedral, built in 535 AD.
“Hagia Sophia is on Turkish territory, it was conquered,” Cavusoglu told Turkey’s 24 TV. “What we do in our country and with our property is up to us,” he stated flatly.
On Friday, May 27, Greek officials responded to plans by Turkey to celebrate the 567th anniversary since the fall of Istanbul by scheduling Muslim prayers at the former seat of Eastern Christianity.
“It was the founder of the modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, who converted Hagia Sophia to a museum in 1934. This was a recognition that this specific monument belongs to humanity, while it also recognized Istanbul’s history through the ages and its multiculturalism,” said Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, during comments made to national broadcaster ERT1 on May 27.
Mendoni added that she “deplored” the new steps taken by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to use the Orthodox monument as a site for prayer.
On a number of occasions, Ankara has strained relations with Athens by hinting that Hagia Sophia might be turned back into a mosque.
In his Tuesday interview, Cavusoglu also chided Greece, accusing Greek authorities of closing mosques in the Thrace region of the country.