Turkey has brushed off Greek criticism of a daily reading from the Quran in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as “unacceptable,” urging the government in Athens “to respect… other religions.”
In comments made to the Anadolu news agency on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic urged Greece to show “good sense,” while accusing the country of suppressing the rights of its “Turkish” minority in the northeastern region of Thrace and blocking the construction of a mosque in the capital.
“We must also keep in mind that the values of contemporary, democratic and secular societies include respect for other religions and prayers,” Bilgic said.
Greece does not recognize its Muslim population, located predominantly in Western Thrace, as an ethnically Turkish minority but as a religious one.
On Monday, the Foreign Ministry in Athens condemned the decision by Turkish authorities to allow a daily reading from the Quran to be broadcast from Hagia Sophia during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, describing it as “verging on bigotry” and “not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies.”
“Muslim rituals in a monument of world cultural heritage are incomprehensible and reveal a lack of respect for and connection with reality,” the statement said.
Built as a Christian basilica in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman army in 1453. The building was converted into a museum in 1953 on the orders of the country’s secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Last month, thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered around Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, demanding the right to pray there.