ISTANBUL, KOMPAS.com – Turkey’s High Court will give a decision related to the plan to change the status of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, an agenda that reaps polemics.
The building, built since the sixth century, which attracts tourists from all over the world, opened as a museum since 1935, and is open to all believers.
Despite calls from Muslim groups to allow them to worship in the Hagia Sophia, the building is still preserved as a museum.
Also read: Erdogan: The Time Has Come to Return Hagia Sophia as a Mosque
The building was originally intended as a church by the Byzantine Empire. But the Ottoman Turks made it a mosque after conquering Constantinople in 1453.
Turning Hagia Sophia into a museum was a key reform carried out by the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in 1935.
Therefore, the plan to change it as a mosque reaps anger not only from Christians, but also fellow Greek NATO members.
Turkey’s State Council will reportedly give a decision on Thursday (2/7/2020) or at least the next two weeks Andaolu.
Also read: Erdogan Can Restore Hagia Sophia as a Mosque
“Symbol of greatness”
Last June, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it would follow the court’s decision (Danistay), with “certain steps will be taken after the verdict”.
However, in March last year Erdogan had wanted to change the status of the building in an interview with channel A Haber.
“We think the time has come to take that step by considering requests from Turkish citizens,” Erdogan was quoted as saying AFP.
The former Istanbul mayor said it was “a big mistake” when Mustafa Ataturk turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum.
Researchers at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Asli Aydintasbas, explained that whatever the decision of Danistay, it would still be seen as a political decision.
“Whatever the outcome, the decision will be seen as interference by the government,” said Aydintasbas.
Also read: 5 Interesting Facts about the Turkish Iconic Building of Hagia Sophia
Even so, he said Ankara would certainly consider other issues such as relations with Greece, Europe, even with the US where “religion is important”.
Anthony Skinner of Verisk Maplecroft explains, turning Hagia Sophia into “killing two birds with one stone”.
On the one hand, Erdogan could embrace the nationalist base as well as the Muslim community, and place Turkey as a resilient nation if relations with Greece deteriorate.
“He could not find the symbol of greatness and potential besides Hagia Sophia to get his goal in one maneuver,” Skinner said.
In recent years, Erdogan has always emphasized the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turkey, which is celebrated every year.
Last May, Muslim leaders prayed at the museum to commemorate when the Koran was first recited in the last 85 years in 2015.
Then in 2016, the country’s religious channel broadcasts a moment when Islamic religious leaders recite the Koran every day during Ramadan.
Also read: Want to Remain a Museum, US Refuses Hagia Sophia to Become a Mosque
Turkey is divided
Greece specifically monitors the fate of Byzantine-era buildings, and is a sensitive issue because they claim to be the successors of Byzantine-era Orthodox Christians.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a letter to Unesco last week that the move was seen as reviving religious and national fanaticism.
Mendoni condemned the plan rolled out by Ankara because it was an attempt to “reduce the global glow from the building”.
He accused the Erdogan government of only prioritizing their political interests, and said only Unesco had the right to change that status.
From the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked for Hagia Sophia as a museum, and guaranteed all people could access it.
Also read: Hagia Sophia Proposed to Be a Mosque and Church
Pompeo explained that the change in status could reduce the extraordinary heritage of the building and its ability to serve people of any religion.
From Turkey, the local public was divided over the plan. One of them is Mahmut Karagoz, who supports the status of the world heritage as a mosque.
The 55-year-old shoemaker who lives in Istanbul has a dream, one day he can pray under the dome of the Hagia Sophia.
“The building is an Ottoman legacy. I hope our prayers are heard. All this nostalgia must end immediately,” Karagoz said.
But Sena Yildiz, an economics student, believes that the Hagia Sophia should still function as a museum.
“This place is an important place for Muslims. But so is Christianity and all who love our history,” he explained.