TRABZON – İhlas News Agency
Tourists from Russia and Greece are refused permission to light candles at a former monastery. The tourists are told religious ceremonies are banned at museums
Russian and Greek Orthodox Christian worshippers were shown that it is better to curse the darkness than light a candle over the weekend when Turkish officials interrupted their visit to the Sümela Monastery in northeastern Turkey.
Nilgün Yılmazer, museums director in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, proved the fallacy of the Chinese proverb when she blew out a candle lit by Russian parliamentarian Ivan Savidis and told him, “According to Turkish law, you are not allowed to perform a religious ceremony here.”
The visiting group of about 500 people from Greece and Russia, including Thessaloniki Gov. Panayotis Psomyadis, reacted against the intrusion and then continued to sing hymns and pray at the site.
The monastery stands at the foot of a steep cliff facing the Altındere valley in the region of Maçka in Trabzon. It sits at an elevation of 1,200 meters, overlooking much of the Altındere National Park. The only way to reach the monastery is on foot.
It was founded in A.D. 386 and functioned as one of the main monasteries of the Greek Orthodox world until 1923 when it was abandoned as much of the region’s Greek Orthodox population migrated to Greece during the population transfers between Turkey and Greece. The monastery is officially a museum and is one of the main tourist destinations in the region.
The group traveled to Trabzon on three private planes. After the prayers, the tourists left the monastery in groups.
“We came here to pray,” Psomyadis said. “There is no notice proclaiming that religious ceremonies are forbidden here. I’m from Trabzon. My ancestors and grandfathers grew up here. Besides that I’m Greek and also the Thessaloniki governor.”
Russian deputy Ivan Savidis said he could not understand why the Turkish officials had mistreated them, adding that the group wanted to return to Trabzon and visit the Sümela Monastery again in the future.
He said they respected Turkish traditions and laws and had not lit candles or taken photos after they were told not to. They were banned from entering the town center, he said, adding that he did not understand why such limitations were imposed.
Officials also banned a band accompanying the group from performing at Sümela and had collected the priests’ religious cloaks at the airport.
Savidis called on the Turkish government to fire the governor of Trabzon and said he would also write a letter to the Russian parliament about the way they were treated.
Savidis said he had supported the construction of a mosque in Moscow as a Russian parliamentarian and that the construction of mosques in Russia faced no bans.
“I did not oppose constructing mosques in Russia,” Savidis said. “You are Muslim and we are Christian. You have to have to respect me if you want me to respect to you.”
Savidis said he expected thanks from Turkish officials for bringing hundreds of tourists rather than “being insulted.”
Every country has its rules
Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin, who is originally from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, responded to Savidis’ remarks and supported the officials’ reactions to the group.
"I saw the museum manager last night on television reminding them about our law and telling that they cannot hold a religious rite or ceremony there. We also have museums in Istanbul converted from historical religious places,” he said.
“It is forbidden to perform religious rites in these places even if the place belongs to Muslims. We cannot accept non-Muslim residents of Turkey or tourists misusing these places. Everybody has to obey the rules of the country they are visiting. It is not suitable for a civilized person to push the limits here."