Christian Post
Jan 4 2015

Turkey Allows New Church for First Time Since Ottoman Empire's End in 1923

The imposing structure of Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey.
The building began as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, was converted
to a mosque in the 15th century, and was then made into a museum in
the 1930s.

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The Islamic government of Turkey has authorized the construction of a
new church, for the country's tiny Syriac community, for the first
time since the establishment of the modern republic in 1923.

The Syrian Christian church will be built on state-owned land not far
from Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches in the Istanbul
suburb of Yesilkoy on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, Turkish Prime
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a meeting of religious
representatives in Istanbul, according to Agence France Presse.

Of the 80 million people in Turkey, mostly Muslim, about 100,000 are
Christian. While Turkey was the birthplace of numerous Christian
Apostles and Saints, the country's government had thus far allowed
only renovations of existing churches.

"It is the first since the creation of the republic," the newswire
quoted a government as saying. "Churches have been restored and
reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now."

The move could be aimed at pacifying the European Union.

The country was recently criticized for making efforts to erase its
Christian past, as was 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 in July 2013 for the first Friday
prayers of Ramadan.

The mufti of Trabzon was joined by local Muslim residents for the
Islamic prayers in the 13th century church building. The Christian
murals were covered with curtains, and the bell dome was used as a

"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 at the time.

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.

Turkey had historically embraced Westernization and secularism,
banning religion from the public square and bringing it under state
control. However, the ruling AK party is otherwise seeking to align
with Middle-Eastern and other Muslim nations.