Today marks the 560th anniversary of the fall and capture of the magnificent Christian city of Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, to the forces led by the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Mohammed (Mehmet) II. Mehmet took the title "the Conqueror" for himself, as a sign of the Turks' conquest of what was Europe's most glorious city of the Middle Ages and as recognition of the Ottoman jihadi victory over Christianity.Read the rest here.
Nearly half a millennium later, the government of the Republic of Turkey continues to celebrate the fall of the city, today's Istanbul, with religious, sports, and media festivities. Kemalist governments long understood the fall of Constantinople as a signature event for Turkish nationalism. Visitors to Istanbul on May 29th could hardly mistake the nationalist message of the city draped in Turkish flags for as far as the eye could see, and under the current Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secular nationalism has been augmented with a religious message about the fall of Constantinople as a sign of Islam's triumph over Christianity.
Last year, Erdogan floated the idea of designating May 29th as a Turkish national holiday. More recently, he suggested the possibility of a referendum on the conversion of the historic Byzantine Christian Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, captured by Mehmet when he rode on horseback through the colossal entry doors into the heart of the sanctuary, from its current status as a museum into a functioning mosque.
Ankara has consistently critiqued the European Union as a Christian Club keeping Turkey at arm's length because of religious prejudice against Islam. Yet, the fall of Constantinople on May 29th in 1453 began an unrelenting, centuries-long pattern of persecution and discrimination against the city's Christian population. This policy of religious cleansing lays bare the lie of the Ottoman Empire as a benign, multi-cultural polity, and also highlights the violations of human rights and religious freedom that are the hallmark of Turkey's treatment of its Christian minority populations. The anniversary of the fall of Constantinople is a reminder that the siege against Turkey's Christians continues to this day -- most egregiously, against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the tiny Greek Orthodox Christian community (fewer than 2,000 in number), as well as against the small Armenian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Christian communities (their combined numbers total about 80,000). All of these Christians are survivors tracing their roots to Constantinople when it fell to the Ottoman Turks.