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The old church in Ortaköy, Silivri will be restored as a mosque by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
ISTANBUL – Milliyet
At nearly 180 years old, the St. Dimitrios Orthodox Church-turned-mosque in Istanbul should be recognized and protected as a cultural asset. The metropolitan municipality is pushing forward with restoration plans, but church officials and architects are criticizing the project because the city wants to turn the site into a mosque again instead of preserve its original use.
A derelict church in Istanbul’s Silivri region will be restored and again put to use as a mosque by the metropolitan municipality, sparking criticism from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and architects.
The St. Dimitrios Church in the village of Ortaköy in Silivri, a district along the Sea of Marmara, was built in 1831. The village was primarily made up of Greek Orthodox residents until the population exchange in the early 1920s, after which Turks from the Balkans settled there. The new residents preserved the cross and the figurines on the church, but converted it to a mosque by constructing a wooden minaret next to the building.
Villagers used the church as a mosque until a new mosque was built, after which the St. Dimitrios Church was abandoned. The wooden minaret collapsed after a while and eventually the abandoned building became a sty and depot.
The abandoned building is currently registered to the Silivri Municipality as a “derelict church,” and according to the law it is a first-degree historical site that needs to be protected.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has already started to restore the church as a mosque and the provincial historical sites’ protection board has approved the building of a new minaret next to it. The process began after former Silivri Mayor Hüseyin Turan, from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, asked the metropolitan mayor from the same party, Kadir Topbaş, for help in restoring the building as a mosque.
Topbaş promised his support and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Construction Department was given the duty of restoring it. In this year’s March 29 local elections, the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, won the mayoral post in Silivri.
The restoration project was submitted to the provincial Cultural and Natural Resources Protection Board and was approved in 2008 as the “Ortaköy mosque restoration” despite the fact that the building was historically a church and does not look like a mosque. The same board also approved the additional project of constructing a minaret next to the building in June of this year.
In its report approving the project, the board said it had not been determined how the building was registered.
The project came to light only a week after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by Topbaş, met with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and leaders of the Jewish, Armenian and Syriac communities on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands off the coast of Istanbul, to listen to their concerns about the situation for minorities in Turkey.
Under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which established the modern Turkish Republic, Christian and Jewish communities in Turkey are recognized as official minorities, while members of Muslim communities distinct from the Turkish Sunni majority are not.
At the meeting, Erdoğan said concerns voiced by community leaders would be addressed based on democratic reforms.
Patriarchate not surprised
The Marmara village of Ortaköy had two churches when it was home to 280 Greek Orthodox households, said Dositheos Anagnostopulos, the spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate based in Istanbul.
“The church should definitely be registered somewhere, but we need to find it,” Anagnostopulos said, adding that many land documents went missing during the population transfer.
The spokesman said it was impossible for a mosque to be converted into a church in Turkey. “This has been a fact since the Ottoman times,” he said. “However, I know of no legal obstacle in Ottoman or Turkish laws to converting a church into a mosque.”
Anagnostopulos said decisions to convert churches into mosques were up to local municipal assemblies, but noted that this is prohibited under the Lausanne Treaty in certain regions, including Kadıköy and the Princes’ Islands.
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay on Tuesday said the ministry will await a court decision regarding the conversion of the mosque. He also said perhaps the site would be used as a church in the future.
Oktay Ekinci, the former president of the Chamber of Architects and a professor at the Istanbul Mimar Sinan University Faculty of Fine Arts, has described the project as “unethical and unscientific.”
“Despite the fact that the building was used as a mosque in the past, it is a church. Its reuse as a mosque necessitates the approval of the Culture Ministry,” he said. “The Cultural and Natural Resources Protection Board needs to be asked to review its decision.”
According to Ekinci, the board must suspend all work on the building until the review has taken place.
“To propose, let alone approve, the addition of the minaret after consenting to a restoration without it is in violation of the principles of protecting monuments and architecture,” he said