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For Turkey's Christians, the country's decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque represents yet another blow to their already marginalized community, according to Politico.

The move didn't come as a surprise to Minas Vasiliadis, the owner of Istanbul's only Greek-language newspaper, Apoyevmatini. "The issue of Hagia Sophia is not something new," he noted. "It was brought up often by officials as well as with articles in the newspapers. But at the end, it always disappeared."

Turkey's Christians took a more cautious approach, with few speaking out. The Armenian patriarch of Istanbul, for example, in June backed the reopening of the Hagia Sophia for worship—though he suggested giving both Christians and Muslims a space to pray.

Vasiliadis, too, chose his words with care. “There is a vibe [among] the majority of the people who applaud this decision [to reconvert the Hagia Sophia] that makes the Christians who live in the city be extra careful on what they say, so they won't be misunderstood," he said.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, warned ahead of Turkey's decision that the conversion would "turn millions of Christians from around the world against Islam."

Yet Christians in Turkey fear the opposite is more likely.

“There is an Islamist and nationalist atmosphere that makes it uncomfortable for Christians in Turkey. I fear this [conversion] might cause tensions, although today is not harder than it was a hundred years ago," said Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor-in-chief of Istanbul's Armenian newspaper Agos.

The Hagia Sophia decision, he said, was only the latest "step of nationalism" by Turkey's conservative government.

In 1914, Christians still made up some 20 percent of the population of what today is Turkey, but a series of massacres, deportations and pogroms in the first half of the 20th century—including the 1915 Armenian genocide, in which as many as 1.5 million are thought to have died, and the 1923 Greek-Turkish population exchange—saw their numbers decline sharply. (Ankara denies that a genocide took place, Politico recalls.

Today, there are believed to be just around 100,000 left in the country of 82 million, among them Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Syriac Christians, as well as Catholic and Protestant communities.

"I think that the Orthodox community are the only ones who disagree," said Emre Celik, a 34-year-old activist who has organized protests in favor of reopening the Hagia Sophia as a mosque for the past few years, "but generally the other Christians don’t pay much attention on this issue and see it as an internal issue of Turkey. It is not possible to make everybody happy with a decision."

Danzikyan, the editor, disagreed.

“I always [saw] Hagia Sophia as world heritage; I always thought that this belongs to all the world, not only Christians or Muslims,” he said. “I feel pain that we lost this world heritage."

 

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