Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum

Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum

- in News

Greece said on Thursday Turkey risked opening up “a huge emotional chasm” with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with a proposal to convert the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque.

A Turkish court on Thursday heard a petition seeking to convert the massive sixth century building, originally built as a Christian cathedral and today one of Turkey’s most visited tourist sites, back into a mosque.

The court will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said.

“Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument… Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the U.S State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told a news briefing.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to let Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to remain a museum and to ensure it remains accessible to all.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it to a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

Completed in the year 537 in what was then Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, Hagia Sophia was the biggest cathedral in Christendom for 900 years before becoming a mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

It was converted into a museum in 1934 under the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, but the case before the court challenges the legality of this step.

President Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, has lent his support to turning Hagia Sophia, called Ayasofya in Turkish, back into a mosque.



Khashoggi’s fiancee hopes Turkish trial will reveal fresh evidence

A Turkish court will open the trial on Friday of 20 Saudi officials indicted over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a step his fiancee hopes will shed more light on the death and reveal where his body was hidden.

The indictment by Istanbul prosecutors accuses the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani of instigating “premeditated murder with monstrous intent”, the prosecutor’s office said in March.

It says 18 other defendants carried out the killing by suffocating Khashoggi, who had grown increasingly critical of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. All 20 defendants are expected to be tried in absentia.

The October 2018 attack at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul prompted widespread revulsion, damaged relations between Ankara and Riyadh, and tarnished the prince’s international image. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, have said they believed he ordered the killing – an accusation Saudi officials denied.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate seeking documents for his impending wedding. Turkish officials said his body was dismembered and removed from the building. His remains have not been found.

“I hope this criminal case in Turkey brings to light the whereabouts of Jamal’s body (and) the evidence against the killers,” his fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside the consulate on the day of his killing, told Reuters.

Asked whether Saudi Arabia would cooperate with the Turkish legal proceedings, the kingdom’s United Nations ambassador said Riyadh asked Ankara to share evidence with Saudi investigators but received no response. “Turkey is not cooperating with Saudi Arabia,” Abdullah al Mouallimi told reporters.

In December a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Khashoggi’s killing after a largely secretive trial. Khashoggi’s family later said they forgave his murderers, paving the way for their formal reprieve.

Cengiz said neither the trial nor the pardon followed due process. “No one can take the ‘trial’ that took place in Saudi Arabia legitimately; it was done in secret and the individuals sentenced are unnamed,” Cengiz said.

Turkey has accused Saudi officials of obstructing investigations, while Riyadh repeatedly said the Istanbul prosecutor has not complied with requests to share information.

Prince Mohammed has denied ordering the killing but said he bore ultimate responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader. Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s death but later changed its position several times.

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