Greece slams Turkey for using Christian basilica site for Quran reading during Ramadan

Greece had expressed its disapproval of Turkey's decision to use a former Greek Orthodox Christian basilica as a place for daily Quran reading during the Ramadan, the Islalmic month of prayer and fasting.

"We condemn the announcement of the Turkish authorities about plans to read the Quran in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on the occasion of Ramadan as regressive," reads the statement issued by the Greek Foreign Ministry, quoted on Sputnik. "The persistent and bordering with fanaticism Muslim rituals in the World Heritage Site are incomprehensible and are a manifestation of a lack of respect and a lack of connection with reality. In addition, such actions are not compatible with modern democratic and secular societies."

Local and foreign tourists visit the Byzantine monument of Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, which is now a museum in Istanbul June 7, 2012. | REUTERS/MURAD SEZER

Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, was built in 537 AD as a basilica of the Greek Orthodox Christian church. It became a mosque in 1453 but was turned into a secular museum in 1935. It has been a United Nations heritage site since 1985.

The decision by Turkish authorities to use the site during Ramadan had raised speculations that President Recep Erdogan is abandoning Turkey's secular traditions. European People's Parliament MEP Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, according to The Greek Reporter, questioned if practices such as this "constitute a lack of respect for Christians around the world."

On June 4, prior to the commencement of Ramadan, Muslim worshippers reportedly gathered outside of Hagia Sophia. An imam led the crowd into prayer and is said to have called for the heritage site to be converted back to a mosque.

"The decision of Turkish authorities to schedule the Koran reading in Hagia Sophia for the next month, has virtually transformed it into a mosque for the first time in 80 years," said former Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, according to the International Business Times. "It is a provocative and incomprehensible act and shows disrespect against Orthodox Christians across the world and is not in line with Turkey's European course."

The Greek Reporter says that prayers began on June 6 and will continue until early July.