June 3, 2020

By Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in last week's RLPB 551 (27 May), Turkey's President Erdogan has been stoking the fire of Islamic zeal, putting the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians - whom he vilifies as enemies - in a perilous position. At the time of writing (26-27 May), the regime was hinting that Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation would be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom) on Friday 29 May, i.e., 'Conquest Day', the day Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453. Indeed, on Friday 29 May 2020, Islamic prayers were performed, and Quranic verses were recited inside the Hagia Sophia as a central element of the Turkish government's Conquest Day Fiesta. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the service had to proceed without an audience. However, the event was broadcast live on all the president's television, YouTube and social media channels.

In recent years, Conquest Day has grown in significance. Now an all-day spectacular, complete with re-enactments and fireworks, Conquest Day is not a 'Remembrance Day' in which war and death are lamented. On the contrary, Turkey's Conquest Day is a day which glorifies and celebrates Islamic imperial expansion and military aggression (Islamic jihad); conquest and occupation; the seizure of 'booty' and the slaughter and subjugation of infidels (Christians) in a demonstration of Muslim supremacy. The seriousness of this trend cannot be overstated!

Christian advocacy groups In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) have all called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey's continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the museum into a mosque. As ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian explains, 'Erdogan's move to change the status of Hagia Sophia - the signature Christian landmark in Constantinople - both reflects and reinforces Turkey's century-long drive to erase the vast cultural and religious heritage of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other now-exiled indigenous Christian nations across the territory of modern-day Turkey.'

The passage which was read in the Church of Hagia Sophia - Sura (chapter) 48, Al Fath ('Victory') - opens with the words: 'Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest', that your sins might be forgiven. Muslims who had refused to fight are condemned and denied any portion of the spoils. Unbelievers, it warns, will be judged with fire while Muslims will receive rich booty from Allah, their victory a sign to all believers that Allah is for them. The sura concludes (v29): 'Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers …'. According to this verse, the Torah (Jewish scriptures) recognises Muslims as people of prayer, while the Gospel (Christian scriptures) recognises them as 'a plant which produces its offshoots and strengthens them so they grow firm and stand upon their stalks, delighting the sowers', and that by this means Allah enrages (makes jealous) the disbelievers. It then closes with the promise of 'forgiveness and a great reward'.

The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text - especially when backed by the power of symbolism as the text is read inside the conquered Church of Hagia Sophia - cannot be overstated! Even if Erdogan does not deliver - and Hagia Sophia remains a museum - he will have stoked the fire of Islamic zeal among his neo-Ottoman Islamist supporter base so much that we should anticipate an escalation in persecution; even more so if Christians (local and/or foreign) are blamed for government inaction. 


* protect, sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Arabs, Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair.

* fill Turkey's Christian pastors and leaders (civic and religious) with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk [and lead] in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him ... being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV).

* intervene in Turkey and, in grace and mercy, by the power of his Holy Spirit, produce awakening and transformation beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).