Russia warns Turkey over Hagia Sophia move

Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was a Byzantine cathedral before being converted into a mosque and is currently a museum, Istanbul, Turkey, June 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 July 2020

Russia warns Turkey over Hagia Sophia move

  • Turkey’s top court is debating whether one of the architectural wonders of the world can be redesignated as a mosque
  • Calls for it to serve again as a mosque have sparked anger among Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy NATO allies Turkey and Greece

MOSCOW: Russian officials and the Orthodox church on Monday urged caution over calls in Turkey to alter the status of Hagia Sophia, the historic former cathedral in Istanbul.
Turkey’s top court is debating whether one of the architectural wonders of the world can be redesignated as a mosque, a move that could inflame tensions with the West and the Christian community.
A ruling expected in the coming days on the site, which is currently a museum.
The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said he was “deeply concerned” by the moves, describing Hagia Sophia as “one of the greatest monuments of Christian culture.”
“A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the whole of Christian civilization, and therefore to our spirituality and history,” the Orthodox church leader said in a statement.
“To this day, for every Russian Orthodox person, Hagia Sophia is a great Christian shrine,” he said, urging the Turkish government to be cautious.
He said that altering the current neutral status of the historic building would cause “deep pain” among the Russian people.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the future of the historic site was a domestic Turkish issue, but added that he hoped Hagia Sophia’s status as a World Heritage Site would be “taken into account.”
He said the former cathedral was a “world masterpiece” that has “sacred value” for Russians.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin told reporters Russia hopes “the global significance of the object will be taken into account.”
Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire in the sixth century but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Transforming it into a museum was a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the modern republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
But calls for it to serve again as a mosque have sparked anger among Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy NATO allies Turkey and Greece.


Court testimony claims Turkish general killed after discovering Qatar extremist funding

Updated 04 August 2020

Court testimony claims Turkish general killed after discovering Qatar extremist funding

  • Explosive courtroom transcript says Brig. Gen. Semih Terzi was killed because he knew too much about Turkish general's murky dealings in Syria
  • Turkish officials accused of embezzling money sent from Qatar to arm Syrian militants

LONDON: A Turkish general killed during a failed coup was executed after he found out Qatar was funneling money to extremist groups in Syria through Turkey, according to explosive courtroom claims.

Brig. Gen. Semih Terzi was shot dead in July 2016 during an attempt by some military officers to overthrow the government of Recip Tayyip Erdogan. The alleged plotters were accused of being followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

According to a courtroom transcript obtained by the anti-Erdogan Nordic Monitor website, Terzi’s killing was ordered by Lt. Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, the then head of Turkey’s Special Forces Command.

The website claims the testimony came from Col. Firat Alakus, who worked in the intelligence section of the Special Forces Command, during a hearing at the 17th High Criminal Court in Ankara in March, 2019.

Alakus said Terzi had discovered that Aksakalli was working secretly with the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) in running illegal operations in Syria for personal gain.

“[Terzi] knew how much of the funding delivered [to Turkey] by Qatar for the purpose of purchasing weapons and ammunition for the opposition was actually used for that and how much of it was actually used by public officials, how much was embezzled,” Alakus said. 

He added that Terzi’s knowledge of Aksakalli’s murky dealings was the real reason Aksakalli ordered his execution.

Terzi was killed after Aksakalli ordered him back to Ankara from a border province as the failed coup attempt unfolded, Alakus said.

Other accounts say Terzi was one of the main coup plotters and was killed leading an attempt to capture the special forces headquarters in the capital.

Along with the Qatari claim, Alakus said Terzi also knew the details of Turkey’s involvement in oil smuggling from Syria and how government officials aided extremist militant commanders.

He also objected to Turkish intelligence supplying weapons and training to extremist Syrian factions who were passed off as moderate opposition fighters.

“[Terzi’s murder] had to do with a trap devised by Zekai Aksakalli, who did not want such facts to come out into the open,” Alakus said.

Alakus was jailed for life in June 2019 after being convicted for taking part in the coup.