In recent days, the Orthodox faithful have been focused on the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Constantinople and on the alterations that have taken place since then in the historic Orthodox church.
However, similar incidents have been taking place elsewhere, throughout the Orthodox world, such as the persecution of Orthodoxy in Albania, which continues to exist until now.
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has made bold statements regarding the issue of Hagia Sophia and the Islamic background of the efforts of Erdogan’s regime to convert it into a mosque. He is based on his deep knowledge in matters of history and evolution of Islam and especially on his experience in the field in Albania, where unfortunately there have been voluntary and involuntary influences in the daily social life but also in policy-making by the State.
It should be pointed out that the cases that will be mentioned cannot be compared to the symbolism and the importance of the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople. However, there is evidence of the aggressive nature of Islam and the consequences it can have when there is indifference or political expediency.
According to tachydromos.org, the case of the Church of Panagia in Përmet, Albania, has repeatedly been discussed. In August 2015, the clergy and the faithful of the Orthodox community of the town were evicted by force from the church. The European People’s Party condemned the incident in a Resolution and deemed it as Islam’s first offensive action on European soil.
The case of the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in the town of Libohovë in Albania, across the Drino valley, is similar, although it is not very well known to the general public. The church was considered as a jewel of the Orthodox parish until the persecution by the atheist regime took place. It has been converted into an apartment building and non-Christian families have settled there. The efforts of the Orthodox Church to take the church under its jurisdiction have not paid off, although it is a legally an open-and-shut case.
A person of Muslim origin had also “privatised” the Holy Church of Saint Nikolaos in Xarrë, in the area of Mursi, with the aid of the State and legal irregularities. This majestic church is now under occupation as the “owner” refuses to hand it over and the State is turning a deaf ear to the demands of the Orthodox faithful.
Accordingly, the competent state bodies have given into the pressure of nationalist groups regarding the decisions about the Monastery of the Assumption of the Theotokos in Dragoti.
It is noteworthy that these are places of worship and not just assets of the Orthodox Church. Thus, it is not simply a deprivation of its property rights. They have become essential tools of oppression against the Orthodox community and an obstacle to the freedom to exercise religious rights and duties.