The ancient cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – the former seat of eastern Christianity – could now be dedicated to use as a mosque after Turkey’s high court on Friday ruled its conversion into a museum in 1934 was unlawful.
The court’s decision revokes that museum status and would allow Hagia Sophia to become a working mosque once more, a decision which sparked a furious response within minutes of being confirmed, with UNESCO warning, “We call upon the Turkish authorities to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”
Official statement on Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia, part of the property “Historic Areas of Istanbul,” is inscribed on the #WorldHeritage List as a museum.
The inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations.
— UNESCO (@UNESCO) July 10, 2020
It was a decision long sought by conservative Muslims in Turkey and beyond and especially by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity is waning after 18 years atop Turkish politics, the New York Times reports.
Erdogan, who leads an Islamic-oriented party, has previously spoken about possibly changing Hagia Sophia’s status to a mosque but has said his government would await the Council of State’s decision, as Breitbart Jerusalem reported.
The plan for any conversion is controversial both inside Turkey and beyond.
Greek Govt Opposes Turks Converting Hagia Sophia into a Mosque https://t.co/BBUX4eW9IU
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 4, 2020
Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amidst ornate marble and mosaic decorations.
Four minarets were added to the terracotta-hued structure with cascading domes and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople — the city that is now Istanbul.
The building opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers’ decision.
Islamist groups, however, regard the symbolic structure as a legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and strongly object to its status as a museum. Large crowds have gathered outside Hagia Sophia on the May 31 anniversary of the city’s conquest to pray and demand that it be restored as a place of Muslim worship.
Now the way has been cleared for Erdogan to appease his conservative Muslim critics and end the contest between the Cross and the Crescent in favor of Islam.
He did just that later Friday when he signed a decree that hands control of the Ayasofya Mosque, as it is known in Turkish, to Turkey’s religious directorate, to reopen it for worship, the BBC reports.