Will all of Turkey's churches eventually become mosques?

The former Byzantine cathedral has been turned into a mosque(Photo: Unsplash/Engin Akyurt)

The Turkish government may say it is not their intention to convert all former Christian churches into mosques, but make no doubt about it: Islamization in Turkey is gaining momentum and the possibility that one day all churches will indeed be mosques in the country cannot be completely ruled out.

Take for example the museum formerly known as Chora Monastery, home to the famous Church of the Holy Savior, which is now being used for Muslim worship and called the Kariye Mosque.

The monastery was built in AD 534 and was then converted into a mosque in 1511 - suffering the same fate as the Hagia Sophia after the occupation of Constantinople. Chora Monastery remained as a mosque for 434 years before being converted into a museum in 1945 by the authorities.

The conversion into mosques of these museums that were once churches is a departure from the legacy of Kemal Ataturk by President Erdogan, and is possibly retribution for the conversion of mosques into churches in Europe.

Erdogan's actions could also be read as an attack on Patriarch Bartholomew, who supported Fethullah Gulen in the failed 2016 coup.

The policy of turning these one-time churches/museums into mosques has been taking place over several years in Turkey. For example, in the early 2010s, the museums located within the walls of the ancient Byzantine churches in Trabzon and Iznik were also turned into mosques by the Turkish authorities. Then in 2017, property belonging to the Syriac church was seized.

With the conversion of the Chora Museum into a mosque, the increasing support of the ruling authorities for Islamization is evident once again.

Perhaps this latest conversion happened because when the Hagia Sophia Museum was converted into a mosque, the Turkish authorities expected a tougher international response, but when this was not forthcoming the Turks were emboldened to go one step further.

While converting the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque was one of the main goals of the Turkish authorities for a long time, the conversion of Monastery Chora suggests that Islamization in Turkey is gaining momentum and also gaining support from Erdogan and the ruling party.

Now all the Byzantine Christian shrines-turned-museums are at risk of being turned into mosques because the decision of the Turkish State Council regarding Hagia Sophia and Chora effectively opens the way for that process. And certainly under national laws, Turkey reasons it is not doing anything illegal, so who is going to stop it?

With this being the case, it is likely that the Turkish authorities will turn their attention to other former churches and start the process of converting them into mosques too in the near future.

Once that happens, the already marginalized and declining Christian minority may well soon decide to leave Turkey for good as Erdogan continues his dream of leading the Islamic world and reviving the Ottoman Empire.