Turkey governor under fire over museum plan for synagogue

The Buyuk Sinagog (the Great Synagogue) built in 1907 under Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid, seen here undergoing restoration. (Photo courtesy of ajanshaber.com)

A Turkish regional governor was accused Monday of inciting hatred towards the country’s Jewish community after suggesting a synagogue should be turned into a museum as a reprisal for Israel’s policies over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Dursun Ali Sahin, governor of the northwestern province of Edirne, sparked an outcry when he said Friday the ancient Buyuk Sinagog (the Great Synagogue) built in 1907 under Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid should only be used as a museum.

“While those bandits blow the winds of war and massacre people inside Al-Aqsa mosque, we are restoring their synagogues,” Sahin said.

“I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean the surroundings of their (Jewish) cemeteries and send their projects to committees. The synagogue here... will only be registered as a museum.”

After an outcry, Sahin backpedalled and said the final decision on its future would lie with the the government agency for historical heritage, the General Directorate of Foundations.

A far-right Jewish campaign for prayer rights at the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem has angered Palestinians and inflamed sentiment across the Muslim world.

The synagogue in Turkey - which served the Jewish community in Edirne until 1983 and a few years later suffered a roof collapse - is being restored as an active place of worship.

“Edirne governor Dursun Ali Sahin must immediately step down after delivering a speech clearly instilling hatred and animosity,” Turkey’s Human Rights Association said in a statement.

“If he does not resign, he should be dismissed from his position and face a legal action. If not, the Turkish Republic will also be an accomplice to this crime,” it added.

The Jewish Community of Turkey and the Office of the Chief Rabbi said in a joint statement they were “concerned over such a statement expressed by a governor who represents the state.”

Concerns

The General Directorate of Foundations insisted the synagogue would not be turned into a museum.

“We intend to keep the building as a worshipping house to serve all visitors,” the agency’s general director Adnan Ertem told the official Anatolia news agency.

Turning a religious building into a full museum in Turkey robs it of its status as a place of worship.

The most notable example is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul which served as a church in the Byzantine Empire, was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and was turned into a museum for all in the 1930s.

Turkey’s tiny Jewish community now numbers less than 20,000, many of whom trace their ancestry back to Jews who took refuge in Turkey in the 15th century following their expulsion from Spain.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
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