World Erdogan rebuffs criticism over Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque
Whose Haghia Sophia?
The Byzantines commissioned it 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. Its ownership and usage have become a perennial political debate.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.
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.
Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum
Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museumA Turkish court on Thursday heard a petition seeking to convert the massive sixth century building, originally built as a Christian cathedral and today one of Turkey's most visited tourist sites, back into a mosque.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque.
"Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries ... attack Turkey's will to use its sovereign rights," Erdogan said during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan's announcement came after the cancellation by a top court of a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey's secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.
Museum or mosque? The battle over the fate of Turkey's historic Hagia Sophia
“It captures a unique history, why pull that into politics?” said Berk Esen, an assistant professor of international relations.Now the more than 1,500-year-old former cathedral and then mosque is at the center of a modern struggle between Turkey’s secular roots and its president’s Islamist aspirations. The battle over who, if anybody, can pray in the UNESCO World Heritage site reflects a larger one playing out across a society split between secularism and religious conservatism.
"We made this decision not looking at what others say but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere," the Turkish leader said Saturday.
- 'A blow to global Christianity' -
Erdogan went ahead with the plan despite an open appeal from the NATO ally the United States as well as Russia, with which Ankara has forged close relations in recent years.
Greece swiftly condemned the move as a provocation, France deplored it while the United States also expressed disappointment.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, said: "We regret" the decision, speaking to Interfax news agency Saturday.
Russian church leader says calls to turn Hagia Sophia into mosque threaten Christianity
Russian church leader says calls to turn Hagia Sophia into mosque threaten ChristianityTurkish President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, an ancient building at the heart of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of Turkey's most visited monuments.
"The cathedral is on Turkey's territory, but it is without question everybody's heritage," he said.
"We would like to hope that (Turkey) will fully honour all of the commitments having to do with the World Heritage status of the cathedral, in terms of its management, protection, and access."
The influential bishop Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's department for external church relations, expressed sorrow, speaking to state TV Rossiya24 aired late Friday.
"We had hoped till the end that Turkish leadership would overturn the decision and it brings great sorrow and great pain that the decision was taken.
"It is a blow to global Christianity… For us (Hagia Sophia) remains a cathedral dedicated to the Saviour."
But Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, told AFP the move would win hearts and minds as most Turks "would favour such a decision for religious or nationalist sentiments.
"This is a debate president Erdogan cannot lose and the opposition cannot win. As a matter of fact, this issue also has the potential to disunite the opposition parties."
Politicians, activists fear Erdoğan's agenda after Hagia Sophia mosque ruling .
Analysts said the decision was an attempt to maintain Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's popularity among his religious and nationalist conservative base.The Hagia Sophia was once a cathedral, and then it was a mosque. And then, in 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk— the founder of modern Turkey, who aspired to build a secular state — declared it a museum.