Hagia Sophia gets permanent imam as tensions rise in Aegean

22 October 2016
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A few months after a controversial decision by Turkish authorities to allow readings from the Quran to be broadcast from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, reports on Friday said Turkey had decided to appoint a permanent imam for the venue.

According to the Anadolu state news agency, the country’s religious affairs directorate and the mufti of the Fatih district have agreed to assign a permanent imam who will lead five daily prayers, instead of the current two.

While the position was foreseen in the plans of 1935, when Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque under Kemal Ataturk, until recently prayers were led by visiting imams.

There had been no official reaction from Athens by late Friday.

Built as a Christian basilica in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman army in 1453.

In June, readings were held at Hagia Sophia for the first time in 80 years – a move seen by critics as a violation of the monument’s formally neutral status. The move drew protests from the Greek Foreign Ministry.

Observers are warning about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly neo-Ottoman stance and disregard for secular prerogatives.

Last month, the Turkish strongman attacked the 1923 Lausanne Treaty that defined the borders of modern Turkey.

Meanwhile, in a sign of rising tension in the Aegean Sea, a Greek military frigate was yesterday sent to international waters east of Karpathos and south of Rhodes after a Turkish frigate approached a Greek survey vessel in the area.

The Surveyor, commissioned by the University of Crete and operating under a license by the Foreign Ministry, was conducting research on the sea surface when it was approached by the Turkish Gelibolu frigate.

The Turkish vessel, which did not obstruct the survey, was kept under close surveillance by Greece’s Nikiforos Fokas for almost 24 hours.

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