In what could become another serious bone of contention with Greece, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed Thursday that most of its voters and a significant number of opposition voters agree with a government plan to reconvert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque.
AKP said that a survey it conducted found that 90 percent of AKP and nationalist MHP voters, 70 percent of right-wing IYI Party voters and 40 percent of the Kemalist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) voters want to turn the museum and UNESCO world heritage site into a mosque.
Turkey’s Council of State is expected to issue its ruling on the matter on July 2.
Built in the 6th century as a church, the building was converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum.
Dendias in Cairo
Meanwhile Thursday, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Cairo to convey Athens’ will to resume negotiations for an agreement on the delimitation of maritime zones between the two countries. He was received by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a meeting that lasted more than an hour, before also discussing the challenges of the wider region with his counterpart Sameh Sukri.
Greece is, essentially, seeking to expedite talks with Egypt on demarcating an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in order to effectively cancel the maritime border memorandum signed between Turkey and Libya on the basis of which Ankara is preparing to conduct exploratory activities a few miles east of the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Karpathos.
Athens and Cairo still have some differences in approach, as Egypt does not want a discussion based on Kastellorizo, preferring that it be preceded by a Greek-Turkish agreement regarding this island. In short, it wants a partial agreement that will exclude Kastellorizo.
In an article for Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper Thursday, Dendias decried that “an expansionist, revisionist Turkey is undermining regional security and stability, as well as peace in Libya, which President al-Sisi is trying to promote through his most recent proposal and which Greece, along with other countries in the region, has welcomed.
“Turkey is trying to manipulate the Arab world according to its own ‘hegemonic’ pursuits. It is causing problems with all its neighbors, violating the sovereignty of Libya, Syria and Cyprus,” he said, stressing that “this is a Turkey undermining the very future of the region.”