Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on Friday formally converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque within hours of a high court’s decision permitting the move, according to a report from The Washington Post.
Erdogan declared Hagia Sophia open for Muslim worship after 86 years of the UNESCO World Heritage Site functioning as a museum open to all visitors.
With support from his conservative muslim base, the Turkish president has long sought this outcome while struggling to maintain popularity with voters during 18 years in office.
But Erdogan’s actions have received condemnation from religious and political leaders throughout the world.
Last Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement urging Erdogan’s government not to violate Hagia Sophia’s UNESCO status.
“We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect Turkey’s diverse faith traditions and history, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo tweeted.
In late May, numerous U.S. organizations slammed the Turkish president’s actions and the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council started an online petition encouraging UNESCO to protect the site.
And on Monday, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow said he was “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s plans.
“A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilisation and, therefore, to our spirituality and history,” Kirill said. “To this day Hagia Sophia remains a great Christian shrine for every Russian Orthodox believer.”
The court decision that cleared the way
A Turkish court had issued a decision earlier Friday determining that the sixth-century former cathedral could be converted into a mosque.
The group that brought the case to court had contested the legality of the 1934 decision by the modern Turkish republic’s secular government ministers and argued that Hagia Sophia was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453.
According to the aforementioned report from The Washington Post, the court ruled that the building was the property of a foundation managing the Sultan’s assets and was opened up to the public as a mosque.
What comes next
Uncertainty also looms over what will happen to the site’s various mosaics depicting Holy Family and portraits of imperial Christian emperors — imagery that would clash with strict Muslims entering the building for religious purposes.
According to a report from the Turkish daily, Hurriyet, officials from Erdogan’s Justice and Development party suggested holding the first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia on July 15, which marks the four-year anniversary of a failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
The move could also deepen tensions with neighboring Greece.
Brief history of Hagia Sophia
Built in 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, Hagia Sophia once served as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch but was converted into a mosque after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire on May 29, 1453.
Turkey’s first president, Kemal Ataturk, secularized Hagia Sophia and opened it as a museum in 1934. In 1985, UNESCO designated the site — as a component of the Historic Areas of Istanbul — a World Heritage site.
The building was Turkey’s most popular museum in 2019, drawing more than 3.7 million visitors.
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As is well known the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israel was built on top of the Temple Mount, which was built by King Solomon, 3000 years ago, as the holiest place for the Jewish people. Should the Jews be allowed to turn it into a Synagogue? Could somebody ask Erdoghan this question?
As the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Jews conquered Jerusalem in 1967. Aghia Sophia in Constantinople was not built on other people’s holy site.
The Jews, of course, will not do such a thing because they respect the religious beliefs pf other people as they respect the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
This is such a tragedy! On my next trip to Rhodes, Greece I wanted to visit Agia Sophia but I wanted to see the inside of our beautiful Byzantine icons & Holy Relics, if there are any left, and now it being converted into a mosque? Where are our religious leaders or even politicians.
This is basically a humiliation tactic and certainly a complete disrespect to all Orthodox Christians everywhere and a snub to the Western world. This is why there should never be “uttered ” from Western lips “it is not my problem “. Complacently should never be an attitude we hold so dear that we allow ourselves, our heritage, our history, to be above compromised and at the level of sheer abomination. If our Western culture is so concerned about “all lives matter ” and protests are sweeping our streets, let the non profits open their mouths AND pockets and buy all concerned tickets to Constantinople for a mega March. Most certainly the Americans, Australians, Canadians, Russians would have to act. I doubt they would allow thousands of their own citizens in Turkish Jails.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. May 29th is never commemorated as the great Christian MASSACRE it was.
Why not start there and show we care?
Archbishop Nikodemos :
indeed it is humiliation tactic. But I believe there’s more: I believe the hand of God is striking down Constantinople’s Phanar for among its many Sins, the fact that Patriarch did nothing to defrock the disgraceful, immoral behavior of Metropolitan Emanuel of France; he hired homosexuals for gay sex orgies along with his gay clergy partner and commit this abomination right inside Phanar!!
Are you surprised Your Eminence, that Met. Emanuel was Rev. Alex Karloutsos choice for new Archbishop to lead America? Don’t forget, these two are best of friends too.
Now we’re finding out, the fraud Rev. Karloutsos has been living a dark, sleazy double life all along as a homosexual – while outwardly married to a woman with grown children and grandchildren which he flaunts as his cover! He really milks it.
Meanwhile, he’s been homosexually involved and with gay billionaire Michael Huffington and scores of other gay men who will someday have lots to tell, cause the Truth always comes out. Any wonder they call him money whore?
The Karloutsos name will go down in Orthodox Church history as most defiled. Is it any wonder God is striking down Hagia Sophia?