Athens does not have a single mosque, Erdoğan says in Hagia Sophia spat

Greece does not house a single mosque in its capital, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday, after a Turkish religious official recited a chapter of the Quran inside Hagia Sophia reignited a dispute over the UNESCO site.

During Friday’s celebrations for Conquest of Istanbul Day, an official from Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) recited the Quran’s Conquest Surah (chapter) inside Hagia Sophia, a 6th century Greek Orthodox cathedral which was turned into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 after he conquered the city.

The site has served as a museum since 1935 under the founding of Turkey’s Republic, however Erdoğan has repeatedly suggested over the years to turned it into a mosque again to fulfil a long-standing demand by Turkish Islamists.

"Hagia Sophia, instead of being razed to the ground with a religious animosity, has been further beautified and presented to the service of Muslims as the right of conquest,” Erdoğan said in a speech carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency on Sunday. “Other places of worship have not been touched and have been kept alive to meet the need.”

The Turkish president compared his country’s treatment of historic places of worship to that of Greece.

“Our mosques and symbols in the places we were forced to leave a century ago were destroyed in a short time. Look, we don't have a single mosque in Athens right now,” he said. “They have all been razed to the ground. But in a city like Istanbul, we did not go down this path.”

Erdoğan said the Turkish government knows the phenomena in Athens was not caused by intent, “but by negligence or ignorance”.

Greece on Saturday called the Islamic prayer at Hagia Sophia an “unacceptable attempt” to alter the site’s world heritage status and an “affront to the religious sentiment of Christians throughout the world”.