Fire wrecks key mosque in northern Greece, stokes fears of fallout


Police and the fire service in northern Greece were on Wednesday investigating the cause of a large fire that ripped through a 600-year-old Ottoman mosque in Didymoteicho in the early hours of the morning, causing extensive damage but no injuries.

The Bayezid Mosque, a cultural monument rather than a functioning prayer site, had been undergoing extension renovation work that had been on track to finish by the end of the year.

The fire destroyed the mosque’s unique wooden roof and melted a metal cover that had been placed over it for protection by restoration workers. The walls of the structure emerged unscathed from the blaze.

Experts indicated that the structure could be fixed but noted that the repairs would be costly and would take time.

The cause of the blaze remained unclear late last night. However, witnesses told Kathimerini that a smaller fire had broken out on Tuesday and had been put out.

Rumors that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was set to travel to Didymoteicho to inspect the damage to the historic mosque swirled around the town all day on Wednesday, but there was no indication that such a visit was on the cards.

The Turkish consul general in Komotini, Ali Riza Akinci, visited the remains of the mosque and took the opportunity to underline its religious and cultural significance. He added that his country was prepared to contribute to its renovation if its support is requested.

The Greek Foreign Ministry did not issue a formal statement about the fire at the mosque. However, according to sources, news about the fire fueled concern among diplomats.

Erdogan’s increasingly provocative stance and the polarized climate in Turkey ahead of a key referendum in April that he hopes will grant him further powers have fueled fears in Greece that the fire could prompt further aggressive rhetoric.

“Such an incident… must not be exploited for political reasons, whether that be by Turkey or anyone else,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.