Opening Hagia Sophia to all religions was a “big mistake” in Erdogan’s eyes. He wants to use the once Christian landmark again as a mosque. A court rules – critics expect a “political judgment” and see a “resurgence of nationalism and religious fanaticism”.
The Turkish Supreme Administrative Court is examining whether Hagia Sophia in Istanbul can be converted into a mosque. As the state broadcaster TRT reported, the decision on the controversial application will be announced within the next 15 days. The imposing dome was turned into a museum twelve years after the founding of the republic in 1935, open to visitors of all religions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in June that the highest administrative court should rule on the status of UNESCO World Heritage. “After the verdict, the necessary steps will be taken,” he added.
Since the Erdogan Islamic-conservative government took office in 2002, efforts have repeatedly been made to use Hagia Sophia as a mosque again. It was a “big mistake” to convert the former mosque into a museum after the republic was founded, Erdogan said in an interview with TV station A Haber last year.
900 years of the church, 500 years of the mosque, 85 years of the museum
The building, called Ayasofya in Turkish, with the 55-meter-high dome was built in the 6th century as a basilica and was used for centuries to crown the Byzantine emperors. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque and four minarets were added. The conversion to a museum was a central reform of the modern republic under the leadership of the secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Not only the secular Turkish opposition, but also several states in the west firmly oppose the retrofitting of Hagia Sophia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Wednesday that Hagia Sophia was “a symbol of Ankara’s commitment to respect the Turkish Republic’s traditions and history”. The government must ensure that Hagia Sophia remains “open to everyone”.
In a letter to Unesco, Greek culture minister Linda Mendoni described the Turkish government’s plans as “resurgence of nationalism and religious fanaticism”.
“The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court is likely to be a political one. Whatever the outcome, it will be the result of a government consideration,” said Asli Aydintasbas of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.