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September 17, 2010

Greek-Americans Cancel Controversial Visit to Hagia Sophia in Turkey

A group of 250 Greek-Americans decided not to go to Turkey.

17 September 2010
World Bulletin

A group of 250 Greek-Americans who urged Turkish authorities to allow a religious service at the Aya-Sofya (Hagia Sophia) Museum in Istanbul -- which has been closed to religious worship for 75 years -- decided not to go to Turkey.

In an act of gesture towards Orthodox Christians, Turkey recently allowed an historic mass at the Sumela Monastery which was closed to worship for 88 years, which drew some 1,500 Orthodox Christians from the Russian Federation, Greece, Georgia and the U.S. to Trabzon, and is getting ready to open the historic Armenian Church on the Akdamar island to religious worship for a single day, as a symbolic gesture to the Armenian community around the world.

Chris Spyrou, head of the "International Congregation of Agia Sophia" and the leader of the group which has been waiting in Alexandroupoli to leave for Turkey early on Friday, told AA that they received a statement from Turkish authorities regarding their demand and actions as provocative.

Spyrou, who argued that their sole intention was to pray, said the statement was like a restriction of entry to Turkey. He said they changed their mind and decided not to go to Turkey upon this development.

The "International Congregation of Agia Sophia" was founded in 2005 and is a U.S. based non-profit organization. Its purpose is to restore the Hagia Sophia as a place of Orthodox worship despite the historical building has been used as a mosque during during more than 450 years.

Turkey's Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay made clear earlier today that any kind of religious worship at the museum was out of the question.

"Aya Sofya is one of the special places in the world. It has been serving humanity for 1,500 years. In the last century, we have been serving Aya Sofya," he said.

"If we allow it, we will have to meet demands of other communities and religions," Gunay was quoted as saying.

Aya Sofya is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the cathedral. The building was a mosque from May 29, 1453 until 1934. It was opened as a museum on February 1, 1935 and closed to religious service ever since.

Read also: Crisis Averted – Liturgy in Hagia Sophia Cancelled