The Joint Justice Initiative, made up of the Armenian-Australian, Assyrian-Australian and Greek-Australian communities, has condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's fiesta outside the Hagia Sophia monument on the anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople on 29 May. The group has penned a statement calling on on the Australian Government to join in this condemnation.
"Turkey's autocratic leader, who has repeatedly threatened to violate Hagia Sophia's (Church of Holy Wisdom) status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the church -- which is now a museum -- into a mosque, has defended Friday's 'celebrations' of the day that marked the fall of Constantinople. As part of these 'celebrations', an official from Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) recited the Quran's Conquest Surah (chapter) inside the Hagia Sophia," states the group.
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The group states that the muslim prayer service in side the 6th-century iconic church built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian was inappropriate and the latest in ongoing attempts of Turkish authorities "to appropriate and desecrate Christian properties occupied over centuries, including those belonging to our Armenian, Assyrian and Greek ancestors. Most of the congregations of these ancient Christian sites were exterminated or forcibly deported during the genocide of the indigenous Christian population of the Ottoman Empire in the course of World War I and soon after."
President Erdogan's comments were viewed as "provocative" and raise concerns on the survival of the "fast-dwindling communities" of minority groups in Turkey. Furthermore, Mr Erdogan referred to "leftovers of the sword" in a recent speech in reference to the survivors of 1915 Genocides that killed 1.5 million Armenians, as well as over 1 million Assyrians and Greeks.
"The deteriorating landscape for religious and minority freedom, democracy and human rights in Turkey demands that nations who uphold such values, such as Australia, speak up and act," urges the group, which calls on the Australian Government to condemn Turkey's latest and egregious such transgression.