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Turkey sends message through Trabzon Hagia Sophia

Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia is smaller than its Istanbul namesake, but shares a similar history. It is one of the best conserved Byzantine churches. Its Christian frescoes were whitewashed during Ottoman rule as part of its conversion into a mosque. Under the rule of Atatürk, the church was converted into a museum. Turkey converted it back into a mosque in 2013.


International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on July 28, 2020, Turkey conducted a ceremonial reopening of Trabzon’s Sumela Monastery and Hagia Sophia, a church now operating as a mosque. This ceremony occurred just days after Turkey officially reopened Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia church as a mosque. Turkey’s emphasis on the conversion of historical churches into mosques signals the country’s religious freedom decline.

Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia underwent a series of reconstruction causing many concern that it would completely alter the architecture of the church. For example, features which define it as a church (such as the apse) were removed. The church is now known as Hagia Sophia Mosque and the Christian frescoes are covered.

“Why are monasteries, churches and cathedrals not allowed to operate in their original forms in Turkey, a candidate for European Union membership? And a more important question is: Why are there no longer any Orthodox Christians in Trabzon, which was once founded, inhabited, and ruled by Greek Christians?” Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut asked.

Turkey is recommended for a special watch list by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Turkey also rates as number 36 on Open Doors’ World Watch List on Christian persecution.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The pain caused by Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia being converted into a mosque remains raw, and this latest ceremony makes the pain felt even worse. It reminds us that we need only look so far as Trabzon for an example of what to expect when Turkey converts a church into a mosque: the slow erasure of its Christian history.

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