ASIA/TURKEY - The "iron church" reopens. The restoration of churches and synagogues become part of Erdogan's "geopolitics"

Friday, 5 January 2018 middle east   oriental churches   geopolitics   religious minorities  


Istanbul (Agenzia Fides) - The historic Bulgarian church of Sveti Stefan (Saint Steven), overlooking the Golden Horn, is preparing to reopen its doors to the faithful and visitors after extensive restoration work, which kept it closed for seven years. The place of worship will be reopened next 7 January, with a ceremony in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov will also take part. The presence of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and of Orthodox Patriarch of Bulgaria Neofit is also expected at the inauguration (see Fides 1/12/2017).
The Turkish apparatus and media present the event as an emblem of the government campaign aimed at restoring prestige to historic churches and synagogues throughout the country, and also highlight the potential geo-political values: from the first of January, Bulgaria, member of the European Union since 2007, began its first six-monthly round at the Presidency of the EU Council.
Built by the Bulgarian community in the nineteenth century, the Sveti Stefan church is also known as the "iron church" famous for being made of prefabricated cast iron elements. The restoration, started seven years ago and cost 16 million dollars, was co-financed by the Municipality of Istanbul and Bulgaria.
The media closest to the government took the cue from the restoration of the "iron church" to recall the efforts made by the Turkey of Erdogan to revive churches and historic synagogues in the Country. In the last ten years, according to data provided by official Turkish sources, the restoration of 14 churches and synagogues has been started and largely completed by the General Directorate of Foundations, despite the decline of Christian and Jewish visitors from abroad. Among the restored places of worship there is the Great Synagogue in Edirne, the church of Aya Nikola on the island of Gökçeada in the Aegean, the Greek Orthodox church of Aya Yorgi in Istanbul.
Even the reopening of the "iron church" is read by observers in light of a possible process of re-defining relations between Turkey and the European Union. "Let us forget about the hypocrisy on Turkey's accession process to the EU" said Bulgarian premier Borisov a few days ago, adding that "the best thing to do is sit down and make a special agreement between Turkey and the EU". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 5/1/2018)