Greece protests Turkey against disco band at Sumela monastery

ATHENS, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Greece’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that footage showing a group dancing to electronic music at the former Orthodox Christian monastery of Sumela in Turkey was “offensive” and “a desecration” of the monument.

The ministry called on the Turkish authorities “to do everything possible to prevent such acts from happening again” and to respect the site, which is a candidate for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“Recent images that have been released on social media, in which a foreign group appears to be dancing the disco in the area of ​​the historic monastery of Panagia Soumela, are a desecration of this monument,” he said.

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Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.

Founded in the 4th century, Sumela is a monastic complex built into a steep cliff above the Black Sea Forest in eastern Turkey. It has long since been stripped of its official religious status and functions as a museum administered by the Ministry of Culture in Turkey.

Thousands of tourists and faithful Orthodox Christians visit the monastery every year.

In 2010, Turkish authorities authorized the first Orthodox liturgy since the expulsion of ethnic Greeks in 1923 as part of a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. In 2015, Sumela Monastery was closed for restoration and reopened to tourists in 2019.

A liturgy to mark the feast of the Virgin Mary has been authorized in 2020 and 2021.

“It is surprising that the permit was granted to the band, since the monastery of Panagia Soumela is only open to pilgrims,” ​​the Greek foreign ministry said. “These images are offensive and add to a series of actions by the Turkish authorities against World Heritage sites,” its statement said, without giving further details.

Greece and Turkey are at odds over a range of issues ranging from airspace to maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean and the ethnic division of Cyprus.

In the past, the two countries have crossed swords over the conversion of Istanbul’s nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia into a mosque. In July 2020, Islamic prayers were held at the ancient site for the first time in nine decades.

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Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens, additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; edited by Philippa Fletcher

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