Greeks are trying to get back at Turks for Hagia Sophia (and they should not)

  • Greece
  • 29.Jun ‘20
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After failing to find support in international organization or US involvement in sorting out the fate of the cathedral/museum of Hagia Sophia, Greeks decided to answer in kind and closed the oldest Muslim prayer house in Athens.

On June 23, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs declared that the Athens Muslim community must in 15 days vacate the premises of the Al-Andalus prayer house situated in Athenian suburbs. Formally, the reason for closure was the absence of some formal document proving that the building may be used for religious purposes. For Greeks, this seems like a fair response to the whole Hagia Sophia situation; for the Athens Muslim community, on the other hand (and this community is mostly Turkish), the new decree presents a serious challenge.

The thing is, Athens are the only European capital without an officially open mosque, and the Al-Andalus prayer center was one of the few places where Muslims could gather for collective prayer. To make matters worse, even before the Hagia Sophia controversy, Greeks used to methodically turn ancient mosques into museums. Thus, the historical Athenian mosques of Fethiye (17th century) and Tsisdarakis (18th century) now function as museum spaces.

Yet, this attack of the Greek officials on Turks will most likely fail to produce the desired effect. There is only one Greek Orthodox quarter in Turkey in Fener, so Turks, deciding on their domestic policies, do not need to take the opinion of the Greek community into account. Meanwhile, Turkish Muslims living in Western Thrace present a serious threat to Greeks: they could stir civil unrest in the only Muslim-majority Greek region. Such hasty actions by the Greek government could lead not only to the deterioration of relations between the two countries – and they have always been guarded at best – but also to the escalation of religious conflict. And we all know how Mediterranean conflicts between the Orthodox and Muslims tend to evolve.

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