Group's mission to Hagia Sophia aborted
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/16/2010 12:00:00 AM |
A group of nearly 200 people led by a Greek-American nongovernmental organization has canceled its plans to hold a religious service in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, NTV reported Friday. (UPDATED)
A group of nearly 200 people led by a Greek-American nongovernmental organization has canceled its plans to hold a religious service in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, NTV reported Friday.
Chris Spirou, the group's leader, said they have canceled their trip to Istanbul and will not attempt to hold religious service in Hagia Sophia, NTV television broadcasted early Friday morning.
The Turkish Embassy in Athens was effective in changing the group's decision, report said.
Spirou told NTV they would try legal action regarding the status of Hagia Sophia.
The Turkish government had said in no uncertain terms that the group would not be allowed to conduct a religious service at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.
“A message was delivered to [event organizer] Chris Spirou that his attempts were seen as a provocation,” Turkish diplomatic sources told reporters Thursday. The sources did not disclose who gave the message to Spriou, a Greek and American citizen.
The group led by Spirou, a former adviser to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and the founder of the International Hagia Sophia Coalition, is planning to arrive in Istanbul on Saturday to conduct a religious service at the well-known building, which served as a church and a mosque before being secularized and opened as a museum in 1935.
Turkey does not allow religious services to be performed in museums. Special permission was required for both the Divine Liturgy to be held Sunday at the Surp Haç (Holy Cross) Church on Akdamar Island in the eastern province of Van, and the historic mass last month at the Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.
“We have directly and indirectly held talks to stop this [Hagia Sophia] initiative,” another Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “We made it clear that any attempt to disturb the public order would not be tolerated.”
The Daily News has also learned that the ministry has contacted its Greek and American counterparts to try and get their support for stopping the group’s attempt to hold a religious service at Hagia Sophia, an act that is believed to pose a threat to the bilateral relations between Turkey and Greece.
The Turkish government’s efforts to stop the service are being coordinated by the Foreign Ministry with the participation of the Interior and Culture ministries. One option is to refuse the group entry to Turkey, officials said.
“The state will take measures against such efforts,” Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said, speaking to private CNNTürk television.
Describing the participants as a group of fanatics, Günay said a very recent application from a Muslim group had also been refused due to the principle of keeping Hagia Sophia closed to worship.
Despite recent speculation – prompted in part by a statement of openness to the idea from the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate – that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia was also prepared to hold a service, Günay said earlier this month that the iconic Istanbul site would never host any kind of religious service and would maintain its status as a museum.