The Church of Aghia Sophia has special meaning for Greek Orthodox Christians. Aside from its obvious religious and spiritual value, Aghia Sophia is a site of Hellenic
martyrdom and suffering. Following the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Ottomans soldiers interrupted the last liturgy held in the Great Church and
began dragging men, women, and children by the hair, tied them, and began sending them back to Adrianople to be sold into slavery. The Crucifix that stood on the altar was desecrated and mocked as the Janissaries rounded up the faithful while the Great Church was filled with the cries of family members being separated. Mehmet the conquering Sultan had previously told his soldiers and Janissaries that the people of the City would be theirs to enslave while the buildings such as Aghia Sophia would
belong to him.
On November 22, 2006 a pathetic and outrageous spectacle ensued. The notorious Grey Wolves entered the Great Church and defiled it once again. The bloodthirsty
killers who have killed Greek Cypriots in the past, and who are attempting to deprive the Ecumenical Patriarchate of its rights, proceeded to chant "Allahu Akhbar" in the
Church while proceeding to pray in the Muslim fashion. The members of the Grey Wolves shouted "Aghia Sophia is ours"....
This action was carried out less than a week before the visit of Pope Benedict to Constantinople. If there is any reason that should make it quite obvious as to why Turkey does not belong in the European Union, it is the very existence of this wicked racist organization.
The Grey Wolves obviously remember that when Pope Paul VI visited Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1967, he prayed inside the Great Church of Aghia Sophia. As such, Turkish extremists of all factions believe that a plot is under way to restore Aghia Sophia as a Church.
This of course is even less outrageous than the assertion of the Grey Wolves that the Ecumenical Patriarch is attempting to revive the Megali Idea on behalf of Greece. The violent demonstrations outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate have included the declaration by the Grey Wolves that their City is Turkish and will never be given up.
There has been a petition in Turkey circulated by the Turkish extreme right that is demanding the outright expulsion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
And what actions has the Turkish government taken to protect one of its minority populations? Ankara continues to insist that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no right
to use the title "Ecumenical", and that the Ecumenical Patriarch is merely the local Bishop of the Greek minority. By undercutting the proper title of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Ankara is directly fueling the paranoia of the Grey Wolves and the violence against the
During the fall of 1993, Turkish extremists attempted to set fire to the Patriarchate. Between May 1994 and October 2004, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was bombed
on four occasions. In late 1997, the Greek caretaker of a Church was brutally murdered, and in October 1999, a nine year old Greek boy on the island of Imbros died in an arson attack. During the fall of 2004, the Greek orphanage at Prinkipos was seized, and during the Spring of 2006 the Monastery of Saint George was confiscated.
The continued seizure of Greek property and the refusal of Turkey to allow the reopening of Halki makes very clear that the Grey Wolves are not acting alone in their terror campaign against the few remaining Greeks. Both the civilian Islamic authorities in Turkey and the Kemalist Generals are contributing to the atmosphere of terror that is again resurfacing in Turkey against the Greek minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. News reports in September 2004 indicated that the notorious National Security Council ruled that Halki would not be allowed to reopen.
There is no greater evidence of the lack of remorse on the part of Turkish leaders for the past policies pursued against the Greeks than by the activities of the Grey Wolves. A responsible and democratic government worthy of joining the European Union would not be permitting reprehensible displays of hatred against a vulnerable minority.
It is beyond bizarre that demonstrations in which the Patriarch is burned in effigy are permitted outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate considering the four bomb attacks
at the Phanar!
Last January, the Grey Wolves gathered in Smyrna where a figure made up to look like the Patriarch was dismembered in a way that recalled the horrific murder and mutilation of Metropolitan Chrysostom in 1922. It is ironic because by touching on the murder of the last Bishop of Smyrna, the Grey Wolves were in effect conceding the reality of the Turkish Genocide against the Greeks.
The present Pope may be one that the Orthodox can work with. As former Cardinal Ratzinger, he openly opposed Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Considering
the reception that the Grey Wolves and others are planning for the Pope, it is unlikely he will reconsider his stance on Turkey. In all likelihood, the Papal visit is going to bring the attention of the world on Turkey, and the world is going to get a rare opportunity to actually see beyond the propaganda of Turkey's American, Israeli, and British partners. The Pope recently received President Papadopoulos of Cyprus in Rome where the latter presented him with a book on the destroyed Greek Churches in occupied Cyprus.
The Pope was widely condemned by the politically correct for quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos back in September. The words of Emperor Manuel about Islam were expressed when Constantinople was surrounded by the Islamic armies of the Ottoman Empire. It is unlikely any of these critics know or care to know about the fate of Manuel's last descendants in Constantinople today.
There are those who will blame the quote of Emperor Manuel II for the hostile reception that the Pope will receive in Turkey. This is a completely false and inaccurate assumption. The Turkish government blocked the Papal visit which was supposed to take place last year. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been harassed by Islamic
militants other than the Grey Wolves over the past decade, so a hostile reception to the Pope was inevitable under any circumstances.
The Pope is scheduled to visit Aghia Sophia and Turkish extremists are likely concerned that the Pope may actually pray inside the Great Church. I hope the
Pope does pray inside Aghia Sophia. Perhaps he will pray for the Christians who fell during the fall of Constantinople, or perhaps he will pray for the plight of Christianity in Turkey and the Islamic world?
The horrors and the evils that transpired in Asia Minor which resulted in the Genocides of the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks have bee hidden from the Western world for too long. Hopefully, the Papal visit will begin the process of shedding much needed light on the political realities of Turkey today, and its past.