Turkey’s cultural wars at full gallop with reconversion of historic church

Turkey’s cultural wars at full gallop with reconversion of historic church
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Turkish police officers stand guard atop the Kariye (Chora) museum, the 11th century church of St. Savior, during a visit by Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Istanbul, Nov. 28, 2007. (Reuters)
Turkey’s cultural wars at full gallop with reconversion of historic church
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Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visit the Kariye (Chora) museum, the 11th century church of St. Savior, in Istanbul, Turkey, November 28, 2007. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 August 2020

Turkey’s cultural wars at full gallop with reconversion of historic church

Turkey’s cultural wars at full gallop with reconversion of historic church
  • Istanbul’s Church of St Savior, preserved as the Chora (Kariye) Museum, a touristic hotspot, is to be opened for Muslim prayers
  • The Edirnekapi neighborhood of Istanbul, where the building is located, has 16 other mosques, sparking criticisms about the necessity of the move

ANKARA: Just weeks after the first mass prayers were held in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s Church of St Savior in Chora (Kariye) Museum, another touristic hotspot, is to be opened for Muslim prayers, following a presidential decree that was published in the Official Gazette on Aug. 21.

Built as a monastery in the 6th century and turned into a church in Byzantine times in the 11th century, it became a mosque in the 16th century and was then converted into a museum in 1945.

However, this status was annulled last year when ownership of the building was transferred from the Education Ministry to the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

The country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, ruled that a mosque can only be used for its essential function and claimed that the earlier decision making the building a museum was unlawful.

So far, no date has been set for the first prayers, but the conversion has stirred widespread debate among Turkish nationals and international experts on heritage protection, drawing attention to the status of invaluable mosaics and frescoes that risk being covered up in the ancient building.

The Edirnekapi neighborhood of Istanbul, where the building is located, has 16 other mosques around Kariye Museum, sparking criticisms about the necessity of a move that further polarizes society.

Samim Akgonul, head of the Department of Turkish Studies at Strasbourg University, thinks that the transformation of former churches into mosques does not answer a need of Muslim prayer spaces in Turkey.

“These are symbolic and political actions and have nothing to do with religion. That is why the opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is somehow understandable,” he told Arab News.

Both Hagia Sophia and Chora Church are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as architectural masterpieces. Despite the restoration works in the building, Kariye Museum attracted about 100,000 tourists last year.

According to Akgonul, Hagia Sophia has always served as a demonstration of power.

“It demonstrated Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s power after the Nika revolt, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II’s power after the conquest of Constantinople, the founder of Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s power after the foundation of the Republic and now Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power after the transformation of the regime,” he said.

The status of Hagia Sophia has long been a matter of debate in the country to reach out to the conservative segments especially during election times.

However, Akgonul says that Kariye Museum is different, as it is a largely unknown church compared to Hagia Sophia.

“Its retransformation into a mosque was probably decided in December 2019 when the decision to change its museum status was taken but they waited until today so as not to provoke a reaction that could prevent Hagia Sophia’s transformation. If that is the case, we can say that it’s a deliberate action and not a coincidence,” he said.

He added: “It is a part of a strategic action to give pledges to the Islamic and nationalist electorate, saying: ‘We reconquer the city and the country after a pause.’ And, the sad thing is it works. Millions of people who never heard the name of Chora, and who will probably never go there, consider this as a reconquest. After Chora, there are very few places where one can see the Byzantine heritage in Turkey.”

UNESCO did not immediately react to the move.

Dr. Mine Yildirim, head of Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey, thinks that a serious commitment to upholding freedom of religion or belief for all would require the authorities to take measures to reinstate places of worship such as synagogues, churches or dervish houses, that have lost their original function.

“We know that this is not happening, and there are many places under the guardianship of the General Directorate of Foundations that remain as museums, or are being used as libraries or other public buildings,” she told Arab News.

Yildirim also noted that although some churches and synagogues have been restored recently, their use by affiliated communities are subject to the permission of public authorities, and these buildings are not reinstated to their original function.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.


US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
Updated 08 May 2021

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
  • US State Department: Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations"

WASHINGTON: The United States called Friday for de-escalation in annexed east Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out a threatened eviction of Palestinian families that has sent tensions soaring.
“The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem ... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people,” a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan.”
He said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to “act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.”
And he warned it was “critical” to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation — such as “evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
An earlier State Department statement said Washington was concerned in particular about the “potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighborhood and Sheikh Jarrah,” two areas of east Jerusalem where tensions have been running high.
It noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have “lived in their home for generations.”
The comments came as more than 160 people were wounded after Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
The unrest came on Al-Quds Day – named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem – an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel.
The nation’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “not a country, but a terrorist base,” and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was “everyone’s duty.”


Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
Somali opposition soldiers pose for a photograph in Mogadishu as they move to their barracks after reaching an agreement with the prime minister. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
  • Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three

MOGADISHU: Opposition fighters withdrew from the Somali capital on Friday, ending a tense standoff with pro-government troops after a dispute over delayed elections triggered the country’s worst political violence in years.
Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.
Under a deal reached by the warring sides this week, opposition troops began leaving their positions in the capital, and key roads sealed off with sandbags and machine guns were opened once more.
“We are sending our forces back to the frontline position to defend the country and its people,” said Mahad Salad, an opposition lawmaker, at a camp outside Mogadishu where troops assembled after pulling out of the city.
Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule.
But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.
Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three.
The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.
Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohammed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks.
“These forces came to the rescue of the people, and have taught a new lesson which will be remembered in future. They refused a dictatorship, and have forced the democratic governance process to continue,” opposition lawmaker Salad said.

FASTFACT

Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.

Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.
But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms.
Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.
In early May, Mohammed relaunched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.
Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote.
The international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon, and warned the political infighting distracted from the fight against Al-Shabab, the militants who control swathes of countryside.
Maj.-Gen. Ali Araye Osoble told opposition troops outside the capital that it was time to return to duty.
“I order that you return to your positions and fulfil your commitments in the fight against Al-Shabab,” the opposition commander said.


Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
People wearing protective face masks walk in Tunis, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Tunisia, April 29, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 May 2021

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
  • Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed

TUNIS: Tunisia ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid Al-Fitr holidays, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could overwhelm specialist care facilities.
Announcing the measure on Friday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history.”
Mosques, markets and nonessential businesses will be closed under the new restrictions, which come as Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadan, said Mechichi.
“Health institutions are at risk of collapse,” Mechichi said, adding that medics were stretched to the limit, with around 100 people a day dying of COVID-19.
More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has required medics to set up field hospitals, and the North African country is struggling to meet the demand for oxygen.
Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed.
Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.
The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 11,200 deaths.
Tunisia’s economy has lurched from one crisis to another since the country’s 2011 revolution, with GDP estimated to have contracted by a record 8.2 percent last year.
Mechichi had said several times in recent weeks that Tunisia is unable to afford to repeat the restrictions put in place in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.