Turkey urges cultural tolerance as Erdoğan re-opens church

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged Europe to show the same tolerance towards Turkey’s religious and cultural history as Turkey showed towards Europe’s.

Erdoğan was speaking at the re-opening of an historic Bulgarian church in Istanbul on Sunday following major restoration work, Anadolu Agency reported. Bulgaria has taken up the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union as of Jan. 1.

Erdoğan said Bulgaria had many Ottoman-era relics, such as mosques, bridges, and tombs which he said needed restoration.

"We can take up the task of their restoration together -- for the conservation of common cultural heritage, exactly as we did for the Iron Church," he said.

Erdoğan said 14 places of worship had been restored in Turkey recently.

They included the Great Synagogue in the western Edirne province, the Aya Nikola Church in the western Canakkale province and the Syrian Catholic Church in Hatay, Anadolu said.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, also speaking at the ceremony, characterized the reopening of the church as “the best example” of religious tolerance that Turkey had exhibited towards other religions.

“I hope this message will be heard and understood properly,” he said.

Criticizing lack of religious tolerance in Europe, Yıldırım said: “The risk of religious and cultural polarization is increasing.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who also attended the ceremony, praised the restoration of the church, according to Anadolu.

“Our religion is being represented just beside the Golden Horn,” he said, referring to the primary inlet of the Bosphorus.

Borisov said that efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and the EU in 2018 were needed. “We will contribute (to Turkey’s membership) as much as we can,” he added.