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World Whose Haghia Sophia?

23:10  01 july  2020
23:10  01 july  2020 Source:   pri.org

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Passing through the stone walls of the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, time stands still. A cross-eyed cat appraises a small group of tourists from its corner.

Numan Kurtulmuş, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Emine Erdoğan standing in front of a building: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdoğan, attends the opening ceremony of the Yeditepe Biennial at the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2018. © Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdoğan, attends the opening ceremony of the Yeditepe Biennial at the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2018.

For more than a thousand years, the Haghia Sophia was the largest dome in the world. In its center is a ring of Arabic calligraphy, a transcription of the 35th verse of the Quran — the verse of light. It’s like a piece of the sun.

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“It gives me goosebumps,” said Ebru Gokteke, a Turkish tour guide.

The Byzantines commissioned the Haghia Sophia as a Greek Orthodox cathedral. The Ottomans conquered it and turned it into an ornate mosque. Then, secular revolutionaries converted it into a monument to two faiths.

Now, the Haghia Sophia may change hands again.

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On Thursday, a Turkish court is expected to decide a case that challenges the 1,400-year-old monument’s status as a museum. If revoked, little will stand in the way of Turkey’s ruling party to make good on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s perennial promise to turn the Haghia Sophia back into a mosque.

Turkey: towards a transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan authorizes prayers

 Turkey: towards a transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan authorizes prayers © Ozan KOSE The ex-Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, June 28, 2020 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the opening on Friday from the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Muslim prayers after a court paved the way for its transformation into a mosque by canceling its current status as a museum.

“It’s a common wish for all of us to see its chains broken and opened for a prayer."

Abdulhamit Gül, Justice Minister, Turkey

“It’s a common wish for all of us to see its chains broken and opened for a prayer,” Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül told the country’s state broadcaster, Anadolu Ajansi. “God willing, we will see the return of the Haghia Sophia to its origin.”

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Tourists take in the beauty of the Haghia Sophia interior. Durrie Bouscaren/The World © Durrie Bouscaren/The World Tourists take in the beauty of the Haghia Sophia interior. Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Whose Haghia Sophia?

As a patriarchal cathedral under the Byzantine Empire, the building is a symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith. Members of the Turkish opposition see it as a nod to the country’s foundation as a secular republic and acceptance of minority groups.

“The republican founding elite … turned it into a museum to neutralize it, to demystify it. And now comes a pro-Islamic government who again wants to use it as an Islamic symbol and try to convert it into a mosque."

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İştar Gözaydın, legal scholar, Istanbul, Turkey

“The republican founding elite … turned it into a museum to neutralize it, to demystify it. And now comes a pro-Islamic government who again wants to use it as an Islamic symbol and try to convert it into a mosque,” said İştar Gözaydın, a Turkish legal scholar. “These are questions of power, at the end.”

The original building was built in five years, between 532 and 537 — a physical representation of the mighty Byzantine Empire. Nine hundred years later, when the Ottomans seized its capital, Constantinople, the Haghia Sophia served as a refuge for the wounded and for worshippers praying for safety.

When the city fell to the Ottomans in May 1453, historic accounts say a 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II rode his horse to the Haghia Sophia and ordered an imam to recite a prayer transforming the cathedral into a mosque; it eventually became a symbol of Ottoman conquest.

In 1934, secular revolutionaries under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, certified the site as a museum.

Turkey: towards a transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan authorizes prayers

 Turkey: towards a transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan authorizes prayers © Provided by Le Point Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday the opening of the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Muslim prayers after a court paved the way for its transformation into a mosque by canceling its current museum status. The State Council , the highest administrative court in Turkey, acceded to the request of several associations on Friday by revoking a government decision dating from 1934 granting Hagia Sophia the status of museum.

But Ismail Kandemir, a retired math teacher and preservation activist, recently opened a case to argue that the 1934 document should be annulled because Kemal Atatürk’s signature appears to be falsified.

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Previous debates over the Haghia Sophia’s status have been punted or demurred as mere political discourse. But a recent conversion of a smaller Byzantine church in the coastal city of Trabzon, also called the Haghia Sophia, suggests that the grand Haghia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque may be a possibility.

Turkey’s Council of State is expected to make a ruling over the Haghia Sophia’s museum designation as soon as July 2. A group of local architects is already preparing an appeal.

What’s at stake

Inside the grand Haghia Sophia, terraces of marble columns reach more than 100 feet toward a striped, golden yellow and dark blue dome so tall and so wide it looks like it floats over a ring of 40 windows. Mosaic angels mark each corner.

“It’s one of the most amazing buildings mankind ever created on the surface of the Earth,” said Gokteke, the tour guide. “It’s a turning point in the history of architecture … it’s colossal, yet so elegant.”

When Gokteke is away from the Haghia Sophia, she starts to see it in her dreams. She says she misses it like an old friend. That’s the case now, as the coronavirus travel restrictions have forced the world’s tourism industry to grind to a halt. But she hopes that the building remains a museum.

Erdogan rebuffs criticism over Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

  Erdogan rebuffs criticism over Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected worldwide condemnation over Turkey's decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it represented his country's will to use its "sovereign rights". Erdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country's secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site. In theErdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country's secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

a clock on the side of a building: Inside Haghia Sophia, terraces of marble columns reach more than 100 feet above toward a striped, golden yellow and dark blue dome. Durrie Bouscaren/The World © Durrie Bouscaren/The World Inside Haghia Sophia, terraces of marble columns reach more than 100 feet above toward a striped, golden yellow and dark blue dome. Durrie Bouscaren/The World

“A building like that is a real historical heritage for everybody. If it’s a church or a mosque, there will be things hidden from the worshippers. ... In order to fully appreciate it, we should be able to see it as a whole.”

Ebru Gokteke, tour guide, Istanbul, Turkey

“A building like that is a real historical heritage for everybody. If it’s a church or a mosque, there will be things hidden from the worshippers,” she said. “In order to fully appreciate it, we should be able to see it as a whole.”

That history includes blended elements as well, explained Molly Greene, director of Hellenic studies program at Princeton University. When Ottoman sultans began to renovate the Haghia Sophia to function as a mosque, they maintained the mosaics of Christian figures despite Islamic religious codes against depicting human forms in places of worship.

“The imperial vision — particularly when it came to Constantinople and Sultan Murad II — was [that] he saw himself, and the empire, as guardians as the world’s treasures. One of which was Haghia Sophia,” Greene said.

Over the centuries, the mosaics were covered but preserved beneath coats of plaster. One of the most recent finds, the faces of angels on the ceiling, weren’t discovered until 2015.

Covering the mosaics “was in response to moments of crisis and social strife,” Greene said, “where there was felt a need to sort of reassert the Islamic nature of the empire.”

Greene sees echoes of the past in Turkey’s contemporary political debate over the Haghia Sophia’s status. “It’s not directed at Greece or the Christians,” said Greene. “I think this is basically directed at the opposition in Turkey … Erdoğan is actively presenting himself and Turkey as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world,” and the Haghia Sophia is a convenient way to assert this message.

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