Turkish authorities razed to the ground the historic St. Georgios Christian church late Wednesday, an iconic structure known as the “Hagia Sophia of Bursa.”
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Georgios had been restored and transformed into a cultural center by the Nilüfer Municipality in Bursa. The municipality took over the church in 2006 and invested some 2 million Turkish lira in restorations, reopening it as the Özlüce Cultural House.
Seven years ago, however, an Islamic organization called the regional Directorate General of Pious Foundations filed a lawsuit to gain ownership rights over the church and in 2013 proprietorship was assigned to the İnesiye Village Mosque Foundation. After the transfer, the building received no regular maintenance and was allowed to go to ruin.
In the past, the 19th-century structure had been used as both a Christian church and a mosque, leading to its designation as the Hagia Sophia of Bursa.
The local mayor Turgay Erdem expressed regret over the situation, lamenting the neglect that led to the building’s demise.
“We have done our part to pass on a cultural heritage to future generations. However, the Foundations left the building to rot,” Mr. Erdem said. “For seven years, nobody claimed this structure.”
Erdem said that the structure had since become dangerous because of cracks that had formed, noting that there had been a “danger of collapse.”
Aware of the danger, the Nilüfer Municipality had attempted again in 2016 to recover control of the church to be able to carry out necessary renovations, but received the reply that the building could not be used for any purpose other than a place of Muslim worship.
Last July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reconverted Istanbul’s iconic 6th-century Hagia Sophia church into a mosque, after 86 years serving as a museum. He then proceeded to convert another historic former church, the 4th-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures.
President Erdogan has come under fire for undoing the work of secular Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, appeasing more radical Muslim elements by re-Islamizing the country.
A Time magazine article Thursday warned of Mr. Erdogan’s “Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire” that is moving the nation in a dangerous direction.
“Much has been written about Erdogan’s attempts to ‘resurrect’ the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan,” the article states.
More precisely, Erdogan seems to be adopting the persona of the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I, during whose reign “the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire,” it relates.