THESSALONIKI – Mayor Yannis Boutaris, who wants Greeks and Turks to have closer ties, said there will be a museum of Islamic art in Greece’s second-largest city.
Boutaris, who was re-elected in May, told Kathimerini he had already contacted the Benaki Museum in Athens to ask for help to turn either the Alaca Imaret or the Yeni Cami, both former mosques, into a museum.
Boutaris, who has carried out several initiatives in a bid to attract visitors from neighboring Turkey, also said he would back plans to establish a department of Islamic studies at Aristotle University, as well as a Muslim cemetary near the city.
“The Turks are our brothers, while Europeans are our partners,” said Boutaris, who once again stressed the need to create a site of worship for the city’s Muslims, an official mosque like that being planned in Athens, to be paid for by the government.
Boutaris has also promoted the birthplace in Thessaloniki of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic and the man in charge when Turkey massacred Greeks in Smyrna more than 90 years ago. He is strongly pro-Turkish, which has earned him the enmity of Greek nationalists and other critics.
He said Greeks have to recognize the contribution of the Turks during the 400 years they occupied and brutalized the country and tried to ban Greek language and culture and replace it with their own.
His call comes as Turkey is discussing plans to turn the revered Agia Sophia church in Istanbul into a mosque.