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Done with Hagia Sophia, Erdogan converts historic Chora church into a mosque

Done with Hagia Sophia, Erdogan converts historic Chora church into a mosque

Don't ever make the mistake of thinking that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holidaying on the turquoise coastline of the country, not even if he isn't in news for over 48 hours.

The 'radical Islamist megalomaniac'—as he was called by the US politician Tulsi Gabbard not very long ago—is a man on a mission and is always working relentlessly to fulfill his dream of reviving the Ottoman Empire.

So, weeks after converting Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine era church and a Unesco World Heritage site, into a mosque last month, Erdogan today announced the 'reconversion' of Istanbul's historic Holy Saviour in Chora, a medieval Byzantine church-turned museum since 1945, into a mosque.

According to a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette earlier today, the administration of the site—also on the Unesco World Heritage list—has been transferred to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and, just like Hagia Sophia, will be opened for Muslim worship.

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As per a Unesco conservation report, the Church of the Holy Saviour in Istanbul is said to have originated in the early fourth century, its name being linked to its location outside the Constantinian land wall. The site lies just within the early 5th century Theodosian land wall, and the remains of 6th and 9th century buildings have been found underlying the extant structure.

Originally the focus of a monastery, the church was comprehensively rebuilt (c. 1077-81) and again after a partial collapse following an earthquake early in the 12th century. The naos and narthex of this building form the core of the extant building, despite damage and neglect during the Latin occupation in the following century (1204-61). The glory of the Chora church, however, derives from its reworking in 1315-21 under the patronage of Theodore Metocrites, who built a two-storey addition on the north side, an outer narthex on the west, and to the south a parecclesion to be used as a single-nave burial chapel.

The whole building was enriched with a decorative programme of fine mosaics and frescos. These were covered when, in 1508-11, Atik Ali Paşa had the building converted to a mosque, replacing the bell tower with a minaret (rebuilt 1860, 1896). The mosaics were exposed by the beginning of the 20th century, but only after the building became a museum in 1948 was the surviving painted decoration of the parecclesion fully revealed and conserved under the auspices of the Byzantine Institute of America. The museum opened to the public in 1958.

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Last November, Turkey's Council of State which is the country's highest administrative court, had ruled that the decision made in 1945 to change its status to a museum was unlawful. And today, Erdogan has changed the history. Once again.

"Turkey's decision is a direct challenge to the entire civilized world. Mr. Erdogan's nationalism had pushed the country back six centuries. He has chosen for Turkey its cultural isolation," Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni had said in a scathing statement some time ago.

Erdogan was severely condemned all over the world for his decision convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque. The first Friday prayers were held at the Hagia Sophia on July 24.

Historians, however, believed that turning the Holy Saviour in Chora into a mosque won't be an easy task for the Turkish authorities.

"According to the same case law, it is to be expected that the museum of Saint Sauveur in Chora, also a Byzantine church which was once transformed into a mosque, will experience a similar fate. This small museum located in an outlying district of Istanbul, not far from the ancient walls, is a Mecca of Byzantine art. Beautiful mosaics and frescoes cover all or almost all of its walls and domes, we do not see it at all becoming a mosque again unless it is completely obscured," Fabrice Monnier, a historian, specialist of the Ottoman Empire and the author of 1916 in Mesopotamia, had told French daily Le Figaro, a few days ago.

Perhaps, he grossly underestimated Erdogan, the wannabe caliph..