Turkey condemns burning of its flag in Greece

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy lambasted the Greek authorities on Saturday for the burning of a Turkish flag that took places during protests in the Greek city of Thessaloniki against Turkey’s re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

“We strongly condemn that the Greek government and parliament members provoked public through their hostile statements and openly allowed the burning of our glorious flag in Thessaloniki,” Anadolu news agency reported Aksoy as saying in a statement.

The protests in Greece took place following the first prayers since the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia’s official reconversion to a mosque were held on Friday.

Anadolu reported that a group of far-right Greek protesters had burned Turkish flags late on Friday after gathering outside the city’s Hagia Sofia Church, before marching toward the Turkish Consulate while holding signs that read: "For homeland, nation and orthodoxy."

Security forces stopped the protesters outside the consulate who burned another Turkish flag and sang the Greek national anthem and shouted slogans, Anadolu said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Turkey on Friday as a "troublemaker", and the Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque an "affront to civilisation of the 21st century".

“What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness,” Reuters quoted Mitsotakis as saying, who referred to Istanbul by the old name of the city used by Greeks.

Aksoy accused Greece of hostility against Islam and Turkey.

“These racist heads, who did not learn from history and disrespected our glorious flag, should well remember their fate in the Aegean,” Aksoy stated.

“Greece should wake up from the Byzantine dream, that it has failed to do so for 567 years, and get rid of its frustration,” he said.

“Hagia Sophia Mosque, like other cultural assets on our lands, belongs to Turkey, and it will forever be our property and in our protection,” he said.

“In line with Turkey’s commitment to all religious rights and freedoms, and its tradition of tolerance, Hagia Sophia Mosque, the place of worship for Islam, which is the religion of peace and embraces all religions, will continue to be open for everyone from now on as well,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined hundreds of worshippers for prayers on Friday inside the Hagia Sophia, with thousands more participating on the surrounding grounds. Erdoğan recited from the Quran in the Hagia Sophia just before the prayers took place.

The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.

On July 10, Erdoğan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after the Council of State - Turkey’s highest administrative court - ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum was illegal.

The move was met with dismay by Greece, the United States, and many Christian leaders around the world.