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Turkey Reopens Ancient Chora Church with Prized Mosaic to Muslim Worship

Turkey Reopens Ancient Church with Prized Mosaic to Muslim Worship

Turkey has made headlines once again as it reopens the ancient Chora church, a celebrated Byzantine landmark in Istanbul, to Muslim worshippers after more than seven decades of use as a museum. This marks the second major conversion under the tenure of President Tayyip Erdogan.

President Erdogan, known for his support of Islamic values in Turkey and as the leader of a party rooted in Islamist ideology, previously oversaw the transformation of Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque in 2020, drawing global attention and criticism.

The decision to repurpose Hagia Sophia stirred controversy, with church leaders and several Western nations expressing concerns over exacerbating religious tensions. Erdogan defended the move, asserting Turkey's sovereign right and emphasizing his commitment to safeguarding Muslim interests.

The historic Chora, also known as Kariye, church traces its origins back to the 4th century and was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era. Designated as a museum in 1945, Erdogan signed an order in 2020 for its reversion into a mosque. Following restoration efforts, the Chora reopened its doors to worshippers on Monday.

While the outer halls remain accessible as a museum, visitors can admire the cherished mosaics adorning the ceilings. However, in line with Islamic customs, curtains now conceal the mosaics within the prayer section of the building.

The reopening sparked mixed reactions among locals and tourists. Some, like British tourist Ferdy Simon, expressed disappointment at the conversion, lamenting the loss of public access to the mosaics and frescoes. Others, such as Turkish visitor Ugur Gokgoz, defended the decision, asserting the rights of Turkish citizens to utilize the Chora as a mosque while noting the preservation of museum artifacts.

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, situated near the ancient walls of Constantinople, boasts 14th-century mosaics and frescoes depicting biblical narratives. These artworks were concealed during Ottoman rule but revealed when the structure was repurposed as a museum in 1945.

Burcin Altinsay Ozguner, Turkey head of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, emphasized the uniqueness of the Chora artifacts and advocated for their continued accessibility through museum preservation. Despite political motivations behind the conversion, Ozguner questioned the necessity of mosques adjacent to both Hagia Sophia and the Chora.

As Turkey navigates the intersection of religious heritage and cultural preservation, the reopening of the Chora church as a mosque underscores the ongoing debate over historical sites' management and religious freedoms.


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