“Erdogan brings back controversy with the Hagia Sophia” – World

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Dirk Rochtus looks ahead to a Turkish court ruling on the fate of Hagia Sophia. President Erdogan wants the museum to become a mosque again.

“We miss you, but patience, we can do it together,” was how mysterious was the tweet sent by the communication director of Turkish President Erdogan on May 9. What was that Mr. Fahrettin Altun talking about then? Twenty days later, even the most unsuspecting citizen of Turkey knew what the now ignited discussion was about. Background was the celebration by the Turkish rulers of the 567you are anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) by the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II.

Melancholy

In front of Hagia Sophia, the former Byzantine cathedral, a large screen was set up on which people could admire scenes from the reenacted battle of conquest of May 29, 1453. Inside the museum there was another screen showing an imam reciting the Quran and then President Erdogan giving a speech. So that was what it was about: the character of Hagia Sophia. Mehmet the Conqueror had turned her into a mosque after taking the city. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, had signed a decree on November 24, 1934 to turn Hagia Sofia into a museum.

Erdogan brings back controversy with the Hagia Sophia.

Atatürk acted from his secular attitude and was driven by the desire to build good relations with the West and especially with Greece. The Greeks are still looking at Istanbul with nostalgia, which was once the capital of the Byzantine Empire under the name Constantinople. The city still houses the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which belongs to the Eastern Orthodox churches. Thanks to Atatürk, Hagia Sophia had turned into a museum showpiece that belongs to the entire world, a symbol that should reconcile civilizations grafted on Christianity and Islam. As a museum and world heritage site, Hagia Sophia was no longer a bone of contention between Christians and Muslims.

Trophies

Occasionally, voices in Turkey called for the museum to be turned into a mosque again. This mainly concerned groups on the conservative-religious and radical nationalist margins of society. There have been leading politicians such as a Süleyman Demirel and a Turgut Özal who ballooned in that direction during election campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, but did not take action afterwards. The issue was too sensitive. But in recent years, the urge to ‘tackle’ Hagia Sophia has increased. With Erdogan, a devout Muslim is at the helm of the state, a man who links a religious-conservative codex to dreams of a return to the glory of the Ottoman Empire.

The president has a reputation as a mosque builder, but the Hagia Sophia as an architectural and symbolic showpiece would of course be his greatest ‘trophy’.

On March 15, 2019, something happened in Christchurch, in distant New Zealand, that started the discussion about Hagia Sophia again. An extreme right-wing terrorist murdered 51 Muslims in an attack on two mosques. In his ‘manifesto’ he had called, among other things, to recapture Istanbul for Christendom. Two weeks before the Turkish municipal elections, Erdogan could not just let that pass. He let it slip that Hagia Sophia might turn into a mosque. The president has a reputation as a mosque builder, but the Hagia Sophia as an architectural and symbolic showpiece would of course be his greatest ‘trophy’. Turkey is set to rise due to an economic crisis, inflation and unemployment, while the popularity of its ruling AKP has dropped to 30 percent. Erdogan could use a boost and so he brought back that old bone of contention.

Symbolism

Normally, on July 2, the Danistay, the State Council, should have ruled in a lawsuit filed by a teacher against Ataturk’s 1934 decree. Erdogan speculated that the judges would agree with the man. Then he could have said that the government should simply follow the ‘independent judiciary’ ruling. Unfortunately for him, the Council of State has adjourned its decision by a maximum of two weeks. So it is not certain whether Erdogan will be able to pray in Hagia Sophia on July 15, the fourth anniversary of the failed putsch.

And if the judges reject the teacher’s complaint, the ball is in the political arena. They said a presidential decree will suffice. Then Erdogan must make a political decision that is not known whether she will indeed boost his popularity again. Most Turks do have other more material concerns than symbolic politics.

In the meantime, Erdogan would pay a high price consisting of worldwide image damage to Turkey. Whether he can play the matter against his political opponent Ekrem Imamoglu, the popular mayor of Istanbul, is highly questionable. A spokesman for his party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Atatürk, had scorned the plans of Erdogan’s AKP: “You’ve been in power for 18 years. If you want to do it, go ahead. ”

“We miss you, but patience, we can do it together,” was how mysterious was the tweet sent by the communication director of Turkish President Erdogan on May 9. What was that Mr. Fahrettin Altun talking about then? Twenty days later, even the most unsuspecting citizen of Turkey knew what the now ignited discussion was about. Background was the celebration by the Turkish rulers of the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) by the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II. In front of Hagia Sophia, the former Byzantine cathedral, a large screen was set up on which people could admire scenes from the reenacted battle of conquest of May 29, 1453. Inside the museum there was another screen showing an imam reciting the Quran and then President Erdogan giving a speech. So that was what it was about: the character of Hagia Sophia. Mehmet the Conqueror had turned her into a mosque after taking the city. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, had signed a decree on November 24, 1934 to turn Hagia Sofia into a museum. Atatürk acted from his secular attitude and was driven by the desire to build good relations with the West and especially with Greece. The Greeks are still looking at Istanbul with nostalgia, which was once the capital of the Byzantine Empire under the name Constantinople. The city still houses the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which belongs to the Eastern Orthodox churches. Thanks to Atatürk, Hagia Sophia had turned into a museum showpiece that belongs to the entire world, a symbol that should reconcile civilizations grafted on Christianity and Islam. As a museum and world heritage site, Hagia Sophia was no longer a bone of contention between Christians and Muslims. Occasionally, voices in Turkey called for the museum to be turned into a mosque again. This mainly concerned groups on the conservative-religious and radical nationalist margins of society. There have been leading politicians such as a Süleyman Demirel and a Turgut Özal who ballooned in that direction during election campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, but did not take action afterwards. The issue was too sensitive. But in recent years, the urge to ‘tackle’ Hagia Sophia has increased. With Erdogan, a devout Muslim is at the helm of the state, a man who links a religious-conservative codex to dreams of a return to the glory of the Ottoman Empire. On March 15, 2019, something happened in Christchurch, in distant New Zealand, that started the discussion about Hagia Sophia again. An extreme right-wing terrorist murdered 51 Muslims in an attack on two mosques. In his ‘manifesto’ he had called, among other things, to recapture Istanbul for Christendom. Two weeks before the Turkish municipal elections, Erdogan could not just let that pass. He let it slip that Hagia Sophia might turn into a mosque. The president has a reputation as a mosque builder, but the Hagia Sophia as an architectural and symbolic showpiece would of course be his greatest ‘trophy’. Turkey is set to rise due to an economic crisis, inflation and unemployment, while the popularity of its ruling AKP has dropped to 30 percent. Erdogan could use a boost and so he brought back that old bone of contention. Normally, on July 2, the Danistay, the State Council, should have ruled in a lawsuit filed by a teacher against Ataturk’s 1934 decree. Erdogan speculated that the judges would agree with the man. Then he could have said that the government should simply follow the ‘independent judiciary’ ruling. Unfortunately for him, the Council of State has adjourned its decision by a maximum of two weeks. So it is not certain whether Erdogan will be able to pray in Hagia Sophia on July 15, the fourth anniversary of the failed putsch. And if the judges reject the teacher’s complaint, the ball is in the political arena. They said a presidential decree will suffice. Then Erdogan must make a political decision that is not known whether she will indeed boost his popularity again. Most Turks do have other more material concerns than symbolic politics. In the meantime, Erdogan would pay a high price consisting of worldwide image damage to Turkey. Whether he can play the matter against his political opponent Ekrem Imamoglu, the popular mayor of Istanbul, is highly questionable. A spokesman for his party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Atatürk, had scorned the plans of Erdogan’s AKP: “You’ve been in power for 18 years. If you want to do it, go ahead. ”

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