The Greek Foreign Ministry was swift in its response on Friday to comments by a nationalist Turkish politician suggesting that the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hagia Sophia should be transformed into a mosque.
“When you lose your perspective with regard to the protection of religious freedoms and human rights, you unfortunately start projecting your own problems onto neighbors,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Stratos Efthymiou said in a statement. “Turkey is judging others by its own standards.”
The statement came after a comment by Mustafa Destici, leader of the Great Union Party (BBP), in which he said: “Let Greece and the world hear that Hagia Sophia is a mosque. With the blessing of Allah, religious ceremonies will soon take place and prayers will be read there again.”
It was also in response to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry accusing Greek authorities of attempting to intervene in the appointment of local muftis among the Muslim minority in Thrace and failing to create a mosque in Athens.
Athens has been keeping a close eye on developments related to the historic site that served as the patriarchal basilica in Byzantine times, after Muslim prayers were held there on Wednesday, in the presence of government officials and broadcast live on television.
The prayers and reading from the Quran also prompted a response from Washington, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert reportedly telling a press briefing on Friday that Hagia Sophia is an important historical monument and urging Ankara to respect its history as it is significant to many religions.
Wednesday’s service was the second in as many months at the museum, with observers saying that the only step Turkey has not taken yet to lay claim to the site is prayers with a congregation.