By Panagiotis Karampelas*
The Fethiye Mosque (Gr.: Φετιχιέ τζαμί) is located in Athens right under the Acropolis. After being used as a storage for local ancient artifacts, it was decided by the Greek Ministry of Culture back in 2010 that it should be renovated and to be used for various cultural activities and of course to be open to visitors.
But is it here that this little story ends?
No. This is where it begins… And the reason for this is that the renovation of the Mosque was a long standing demand of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, what he wanted was for it to actually be used again as a Mosque officially, which is not the case right now.
Anyone, with good intentions, who reads this could very well ask:
“What’s so special about this specific Mosque that has turned into a bilateral issue between Greece and Turkey?”
The answer lies at the very beginning of the Mosque’s history itself.
The Mosque was built by the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the 2nd the Conqueror to give thanks to Allah for helping him conquer Constantinople in 1453. The Mosque officially opened when the Sultan visited the (conquered, of course…) Athens.
One doesn’t have to be an avid reader of strategy or history to understand the connotations as well as the semiology behind this specific Mosque. In the hands of a megalomaniac wannabe-Sultan, this could be as good as a weapon!
This is what Erdogan had in mind when he insisted to various Greek governments to open the Fethiye Mosque. Such a building, with the history it carries, reopening again under the shadow of the Greek and European symbol of democracy, the Parthenon, would be a victory by itself.
And this is exactly what we gave him: A Victory!
Of course, one could argue that it will not be used as a Mosque, but as a place for cultural events and a place for tourists to visit.
However, it would be really naive for anyone not to see how this can, and eventually will, change. The first Turk or Muslim in general that will start praying in there is going to turn it practically into a Mosque. When Muslim tourists will start protesting against western tourists and Greek visitors for not taking off their shoes as it is accustomed by the Muslims in Mosques, that is when it will turn into one. Because whoever will try to stop them, will give the perfect propaganda “ammunition” to Turkey to say to the world: “See what the bad Greeks are doing? Is this your ‘democracy’ Europe? The Human and Religious Rights are being oppressed blah-blah-blah……….”
For Turkey, this is a win-win situation!
Well done Mr. Erdogan. Well played…
* Panagiotis Karampelas is a Strategic & Political analyst.