The leaders of Turkey
are due to reopen the Bulgarian St Stephen's Church
today in Istanbul
after seven years of restoration, in a gesture of harmony in an often turbulent relationship between the two neighbours.
The Bulgarian Orthodox church
in Balat, a historic Istanbul
neighbourhood on the shores of the Golden Horn traditionally home to Christians and Jews, was built in 1898 after its original wooden structure was destroyed in a fire.
Made out of cast iron, the iconic ornate building has been dubbed the "Iron Church".
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who hosts Bulgaria's conservative Prime Minister
Boyko Borisov, the ceremony will be a riposte to charges that Turkey's Islamic-rooted government
does not do enough to protect the rights of Christian minorities and their heritage.
It is also seen as a sign of appeasement after a spat erupted in spring in the run-up to Bulgarian elections, and a Turkish referendum on expanding Erdogan's power.
Bulgaria, which holds the rotating EU presidency for the next six months, shares a 270-km border with Turkey.
is home to more than 200,000 ethnic Turks with Bulgarian passports who left Bulgaria
during the communist era.
Around a third of them regularly turn out for Bulgarian elections, with the last ballot taking place on March 26.
Bulgaria, meanwhile, is home to a 700,000-strong ethnic Turkish minority, a legacy of the Ottoman empire.
had accused Ankara
of meddling in its March polls, summoning Turkey's ambassador
and recalling its own envoy
Meanwhile, the main party representing the Turkish minority in Bulgaria
had denounced Turkey's April vote on granting Erdogan
sweeping powers as "madness".
But in a show of cooperation, Bulgaria
co- funded St Stephen's restoration, one of the world's oldest prefabricated cast iron churches.
The iron elements were produced in Austria
in the 19th century and shipped to Istanbul
through the Danube
and the Black Sea.
Vasil Liaze, president
of a foundation overseeing the church, told Turkish media that the church had been restored under so-called rules of reciprocity.
This means that Sofia
has given the green light for the Cuma (Friday) Mosque in Bulgaria's second city of Plovdiv
to be restored in return.
In a key trip to neighbouring Greece
in December, Erdogan
said the rights of Turkish-speaking Muslim minorities should be safeguarded.
also insists it has passed reforms to improve minorities' rights including legislation allowing minority groups to buy and renovate their properties.
In June 2014, when he was prime minister, Erdogan
said that the government
had returned to minority foundations their confiscated assets worth over USD 2 billion.
But opponents say Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party have done little to expand rights for minorities, and showed intolerance for dissenting voices.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)