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06/26/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Greek Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople (Istanbul) recently expressed his concern over Turkish President Erdogan’s plans to convert the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque. The patriarch said, “What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken.”  

The Hagia Sophia cathedral was once the center of eastern Christianity, but was converted into a mosque with the Ottoman conquest just over 500 years ago. When the Ottoman Empire dissolved into modern day Turkey, the cathedral was changed into a museum. Legally, it is supposed to remain as a museum. However, whenever the ruling AK Party is in need of increased popular support, they promise to convert the church back into a mosque. Rhetoric of this nature has increased in recent days and it is expected that next week Turkish courts will rule in favor of this conversion.

While Patriarch Bartholomew I has faith that the Greek Christians will remain strong in Turkey, many fear a continued decrease in the Christian population. Genocide, discrimination and property confiscation since the early 1900s led to the exodus of many Christian communities, and policies against Christians have not seen much change. Turkey must work to unite its minority communities in this new century, not further divide them.

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