The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s most celebrated landmark and formerly the principal seat of power for Orthodox Christianity in Constantinople for almost 1000 years, is being converted into a mosque at the orders of President Tayyip Erdogan. The move is being met with global condemnation.
When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, its rulers converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque—but their efforts were reverted by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, who in 1934 envisioned Turkey as a modern, secularist state free from the shackles of the religious fundamentalism that brought it low prior to the First World War. He turned it into a museum, and it has become a site of pilgrimage for Christians.
Erdogan, a Muslim hardliner, has done much to undo Ataturk’s secularism since taking power, and his latest move is an effort to establish the revival of the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church warned that the move would destabilize religious relations between Muslims and Christians worldwide, according to Time Magazine.
Reuters, quoting the Russian Orthodox Church, states that the move is “unacceptable” to Christians.
“We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now,” said Orthodox church senior Metropolitan Hilarion. “We live in a multipolar world, we live in a multi-confessional world and we need to respect the feelings of believers.”
“We believe that in the current conditions this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also urged the Turkish government to stop the move.
Erdogan rejected the criticism, which he described as “tantamount to a direct attack on [Turkey’s] sovereignty.”
According to Middle East Eye contributor Ragıp Soylu, Turkish journalists with sources in the government claim that the country’s administrative court has unanimously ruled to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, effectively canceling the 1934 decision.
“The Turkish council of state is expected to officially release its decision on Hagia Sophia tomorrow, per Turkish reports,” he wrote. “Meanwhile Turkish opposition parties are pretty silent on gov’t move to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Main opposition CHP said that they won’t stand in the way.”