OP/ED: It’s a shame for living history to become the object of a statements war

OP/ED: It’s a shame for living history to become the object of a statements war

Athens, June 9, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

The nationalistic crowns on both sides at a time when Greece and Turkey are trying to overcome obsessions and centuries-old prejudices and open communication channels to settle their differences, the reading of the Koran after midnight in Hagia Sophia, has been converted in a war of statements between the two Foreign ministries.

A symbol of Christianity during the Byzantine period and of Islamism during the Ottoman period, Hagia Sophia continues to divide in its presence, as it is considered by the Greeks to be the heritage of the descendants of the Byzantine and by the Turks the heritage of the Ottoman Empire.

The current building was built in the 6th century by Justinian, Emperor of Byzantium, in the position of the homonymous church “Of the Wisdom of God”, which had been built by Constantine the Great and was destroyed in a fire during the “Nika stance”. In 1204 it was converted into a Catholic church after the Fall of Constantinople by the Crusaders, until 1261 when it became again an Orthodox Church until 1453, when the last liturgy took place there.

During the Ottoman period the church was converted into a mosque until 1934, when Kemal Ataturk decided to transform it into a museum and as such remains to this day. Over the years, and in the logic of museums, numerous events have taken place compatible with the status of the museum, but inconsistent in theory as a religious monument.

Many pages have been written on both sides concerning the restoration of the use of Hagia Sophia either as a Christian Church or a Mosque. Each side has its own arguments for the request and depending on which side one belongs to, tends to converge towards one or the other side.

Surely it arouses emotions in every Greek who visits it, since in there have been written many pages of the history of the Greeks for nearly a millennia.

This does not mean that it does not stir emotions and pride to the Turks who visit Hagia Sophia. It became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey’s historical path.

But a monument of this magnitude, a cultural and religious symbol, belongs to everyone, regardless of ideological or religious beliefs. And what’s more important it merits respect and protection and not become the object of controversy.

The Hagia Sophia in its long history has never change its name. It became a symbol of two Empires and two religions. It was the link between God and Man, between East and West. It receiving the respect of everyone, Christians and Muslims, and today as a museum takes us to the past and it is not disrespectful to read the Quran or chant Byzantine hymns inside it.

It won’t be turned into a mosque if one reads verses from the Koran, nor into a church if one sings Byzantine hymns. We must understand that Hagia Sophia is now a museum, it is a cultural heritage and belongs to everyone. Like so many monuments that were once temples dedicated to dead or alive religions and today they host cultural events and many visitors, and become communicants of the history that has been written over the years.

It is a shame for living history to become the object of a statements war.