Istanbul – Restoration work that would result in an historic Greek Orthodox church being recognized as a mosque has caused uproar in Turkey, reported the daily Milliyet newspaper on Tuesday. At issue is the 178-year-old St Dimitrios church in the northern Turkish village of Silivri.
The village was once a Greek settlement but, after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, ethnic Greek residents had to leave in a forced resettlement that swapped 1.5 million ethnic Greeks from Turkey for 600,000 ethnic Turks living in northern Greece.
After the resettlement, the church was briefly used for prayers while work was underway to build a mosque for the new Muslim residents. A minaret was attached to the building, but its cross was never removed.
Later, the church was used for storage and as a stall.
However, current work on the church is being billed as «restoration of the Ortakoy Mosque,» causing an uproar.
«There is no doubt that this structure is a church. It’s a church even if it was briefly used as a mosque,» said Turkish architect and college instructor Oktay Ekinci.
Adding to the grievances is the fact that the renovation work was approved by local leaders of the AKP Justice and Development Party, which runs the government at the national level. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said in the past that protecting minority rights is a priority in Turkey.
Representatives of the Greek Orthodox church in Turkey have not commented on the issue.