CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) – A few hundred demonstrators have protested the New Zealand mosque shootings outside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia – a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum.
The demonstrators – mostly members of Islamic civil society groups – on Saturday called for the symbolic edifice to be reconverted into a mosque. The demand was in response to a taunt by the gunman in Friday’s shooting rampage in a 74-page manifesto in which he reportedly said “Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets.”
The former Byzantine cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453. Turkey’s secular founder turned the structure into a museum in 1935 that attracts millions of tourists each year.
There have been, however, increasing calls for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to convert the structure back into a mosque.