Turkey and Greece have exchanged harsh words over the conversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a day after Islamic prayers were held at the ancient site for the first time in 90 years.
Relations between NATO allies Ankara and Athens have been uneasy in recent months but tensions have recently increased over Hagia Sophia and energy riches in the eastern Mediterranean.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We see that the targets of those countries who have made so much noise in recent days are not Hagia Sophia or the eastern Mediterranean,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech on Saturday.
“[Their targets] are the presence itself of the Turkish nation and Muslims in this region.”
He also condemned hostile statements by the Greek government and Parliament members and Turkish flag-burning in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
Erdogan joined thousands for the first Islamic prayer on Friday since Hagia Sophia was reconverted into a mosque this month.
Hagia Sophia was previously a museum and most Greeks view it as central to their Orthodox Christian religion: Church bells tolled in mourning across Greece on Friday.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday said what was happening in Istanbul was “not a show of force, but proof of weakness”.
He also called Turkey a “troublemaker”, and the conversion of the site an “affront to civilisation of the 21st century”.
In a statement on Saturday, the Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said: “Greece showed once again its enmity towards Islam and Turkey with the excuse of reacting to Hagia Sophia Mosque being opened to prayers.”
The Greek foreign ministry responded with its own statement, saying: “The international community of the 21st century is stunned to observe the religious and nationalist fanatic ramblings of today’s Turkey.”
Greece and Turkey disagree on a range of issues from airspace to maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean and ethnically split Cyprus.