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Monday, 13 July 2020 09:11
 By Victor Isaak Eliezer*                         

Daily "TA NEA", July 11, 2020: The temple or Museum of "Aghia Sophia" in Istanbul, is maybe one of the unique religious monuments which are uniting instead of dividing the worshippers of two different monotheistic religions.  As a temple, during many centuries, it symbolized the unity of the Orthodox Christianity and the wealth of the Byzantine civilization, till the fall of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Then it was transformed into a mosque. The founder of the modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, converted "Aghia Sophia" into a Museum related to both Christianism and Islam. A Museum of world cultural heritage which is visited and admired by millions of visitors, independently of their race, skin color or religion. I fully understand and share, though, the awe which overwhelms the Christian Orthodox people as this Church has been the birthplace of Orthodoxy and marked faithfully the rightful struggle of the Greeks for their freedom from the Ottoman enslavement that led to their independence and to the creation of the modern Hellenic state. 

In 70 A.D, the Romans destroyed the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the unique Holy place in which Jews were praying.  It was then when they were exiled from their own land and wherever they went, even under extremely hard circumstances, during praying, their eyes were looking toward Jerusalem. The only part that has been saved was the Western Wall of the Temple, called today the Wailing Wall. During many centuries the access of the Jews was prohibited and on the Holy Hill of the Temple, in 705 A.D. Calif Abd al Malik ibn Marouan and his son Walled the First, built the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. 

Jerusalem was liberated only in 1967, during the Six Day war. After almost 2000 years the Jews were able to have a free access and pray at the Wailing Wall. Muslims had the same free access to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Christians to the Holy Sepulchre. A lot of blood was shed in order to get sovereignty on the Holy lands. These lands are also places with historical and spiritual values that marked humanity in an indelible way and are respected by visitors of any color or religion. The cultural character and the peculiarity of each and every Holy place in Jerusalem is safeguarded with great respect, independently to any political aspect a government may have in the State of Israel. Can you imagine the reaction of every civilized person if, all of a sudden, a paranoiac was thinking to transform Al Aqsa Mosque to a Jewish Synagogue because 1300 years ago this Mosque was built on the Holy Hill where the Temple of Solomon used to be erected?

The protection of the world cultural heritage is the debt of any civilized state toward Humanity. Thus, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to safeguard the interreligious and intercultural character of "Aghia Sophia" in order to avoid being identified by history with the religious fanaticism of the Islamic state absolutists who destroyed all monuments and cultural places on the barbarian paths they walked, brushing off any values of life and culture. "Aghia Sophia" does not concern only Christians or Muslims, it concerns all of us because culture is a good which appertains to humanity.  

* Victor Isaak Eliezer is a journalist and Secretary General of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. 

Source: Newspaper “TA NEA”, 11/7/2020. “Aghia Sophia through the eyes of the others”, ed. Dimitris Doulgeridis, featuring contributions on how personalities of different religions assess the ecumenical importance of the museum of  Aghia Sophia.


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