Greek extremists burn Turkish flags over Hagia Sophia
Far-right group stopped outside Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki
A group of far-right Greek extremists burned Turkish flags late Friday in Thessaloniki to protest the reopening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque for worship in Istanbul.
The group burned a Turkish flag after gathering outside the Agia Sofia Church before marching toward the Turkish Consulate while holding signs that read: "For homeland, nation and orthodoxy."
Protesters were stopped outside the consulate by security forces but burned another Turkish flag and sang the Greek national anthem and shouted slogans.
Besides being a functioning mosque, Hagia Sophia is also among Turkey’s top tourism destinations for domestic and foreign visitors alike.
In 1985, during its time as a museum, Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul, and a mosque from 1453 to 1934 -- nearly 500 years -- and most recently as a museum for 86 years.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders had long advocated for it to return to a functioning mosque, open for worship.
A Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree July 19 that turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use as a mosque.
In the new era for Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate will oversee religious services at the mosque, while the Culture and Tourism Ministry will supervise restoration and conservation work.
The architectural treasure is also open to domestic and foreign tourists free of charge.