OPINION

Protecting Greece’s Ottoman monuments

Greek Culture Ministry officials have mostly shunned recent comments by Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, who called for Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, now a museum, to be converted into a mosque.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in the past said that the world-famous monument, designed as a Christian basilica in the 6th century, should stay as it is. After all, any plan to modify it would meet with opposition from the global scientific community.

If Arinc’s statements have caused some degree of frustration, it is because of his purported lecturing to the Greek side: “It is widely known that Greece has ignored its Ottoman temples and cultural monuments,” he said.

However, actions speak louder than words. Since the years of the Community Support Framework (CSF) up until those of the more recent National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), Greece’s Culture Ministry has planned the restoration of at least 33 Ottoman-era monuments across the country, at a cost of over 30 million euros.

A key project is the 4.156-million-euro restoration of the Bayezid (Mehmed I) Mosque in Didymoteicho, northern Greece, which has been described as the most important Islamic monument on the European continent.

There is also a mosque on the island of Chios, in the eastern Aegean, which has been renovated and now operates as a museum. Works are also under way to restore Ottoman monuments on the Dodecanese islands, the Imaret Monument in Komotini, which is one of the oldest in Thrace, and the Ottoman baths on the island of Lesvos.

And currently authorities are also carrying out restoration works on the Neratze Mosque in Rethymno, Crete – also known as Gazi Hussein Pasha or Odeio (conservatory), as the young locals call it – with its impressive doorframe and imposing minaret.

Moreover, Greek authorities have given the green light for restoration work on the Ottoman mausoleum (Tourbes) of the Muslim saint Musa Baba in Thessaloniki’s Terpsithea Square, as well as the Fethiye (Conqueror) Mosque, an Ottoman mosque built on the ruins of a Byzantine basilica in central Athens. True, it took 15 years, but too this will open to the public in the Roman Agora at some point.

These are not the only projects, but they are enough to show that there is a great deal of respect for a civilization and history that is in part shared between the two neighboring states.