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World Politicians, activists fear Erdoğan's agenda after Hagia Sophia mosque ruling

12:27  17 july  2020
12:27  17 july  2020 Source:   nbcnews.com

Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday: officials

  Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday: officials Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday: officialsANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court is likely to announce on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, two Turkish officials said, paving the way for its restoration as a mosque despite international concerns.

ISTANBUL — The conversion of Istanbul's symbolic, shape-shifting Hagia Sophia edifice back into a mosque is being described as a victory for the conservative religious agenda of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

a large tower in a city: Image: Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters) © Murad Sezer Image: Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters)

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.

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.

After a Turkish court annulled Atatürk's decision one week ago, Erdoğan swiftly declared the Hagia Sophia to be — once again — a mosque.

Analysts said the decision showed how desperate the president is to maintain his popularity among his religious and nationalist conservative base, which has kept him in power for years — but which is now seen to be waning.

Erdoğan was once celebrated for overseeing Turkey's rapid development and booming economy. But praise has long since given way to deep concern over the country's shaky finances and imperfect democracy, intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

Last year, the fears led to his greatest political defeat since he came to power, as his Justice and Development Party lost control of Turkey's two biggest cities in municipal elections.

Erdoğan now governs with the stinging public rejection of having had the voters choose the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, to lead both the capital, Ankara, where he lives, and Istanbul, his hometown, where he was once mayor.

The government, which is disinclined to brook criticism, has launched investigations into opposition figures, removed elected mayors and imprisoned journalists during the coronavirus pandemic while passing a bill to release tens of thousands of inmates, lest they contract COVID-19 because of crowding.

"Turkey wanted to be a member of the democratic world, but that story has ended," said Garo Paylan, 48, a Christian Armenian who is one of the founders of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party.

Hagia Sophia: Pope Francis "very saddened" as Turkey converts museum into mosque

  Hagia Sophia: Pope Francis Pope Francis stood in silence for several minutes at his weekly Angelus prayer Sunday, after he talked about Turkey's decision to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. © Emrah Gurel/AP Muslims offer evening prayers outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, following the Turkish Council of State decision, Friday, July 10, 2020. "The sea takes my thought a bit far, to Istanbul," the pontiff said during the prayer, which commemorates people who work at sea.

Erdoğan "can't give bread to the people, and he's giving more radicalism to the Muslim majority," Paylan said over the phone.

While the Hagia Sophia decision was a major symbolic win for the country's Islamists, Paylan argued that it shut the door to the future for minorities in the country and took away a symbol of respect for the country's diversity. He has stopped telling his fellow Armenians to stay in the country.

Last year, the U.S. Senate declared that the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s was genocide, a label Turkey strongly rejects.

In any event, minority rights were not well supported after the Ottoman Empire ended, either.

With the founding of modern Turkey, Atatürk established a nationalist approach to Turkish identity that often ran counter to the struggles for greater minority rights.

Kurds, who are almost 20 percent of the population, have found themselves at odds with both secular and Islamist nationalists, many of whom fear the country could slide into a civil war if there were to be a push for self-governance.

Erdogan Defies the West to Make Turkey a Regional Power

  Erdogan Defies the West to Make Turkey a Regional Power When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reopens Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia for prayers next week, it will be the crowning symbol of his mission to reassert Turkey’s role as a Muslim power on the global stage. Yet Turkey’s rarely seemed more alone. © Bloomberg Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, gestures as he arrives ahead of talks in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

The calculus has driven many of Erdoğan's nationalist policies, but, analysts say, so have the threats to his power from the Peoples' Democratic Party.

POINT OF VIEW. Hagia Sophia: a step back?

 POINT OF VIEW. Hagia Sophia: a step back? © EPA archives In Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to convert into a mosque, is an architectural gem with a turbulent history. In Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia, nicknamed the “wonder of wonders”, which became a museum in 1934, has been converted into a mosque. Commentary from Dominique Moïsi, special advisor to the Institut Montaigne. Since yesterday Hagia Sophia (Hagia Sophia) has effectively become a mosque.

In 2015, the party entered the Grand National Assembly, Turkey's parliament, for the first time, stopping Erdoğan's party from getting a majority. That led him to partner with the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, further cementing his need to push a conservative agenda.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Image: The Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters) © Murad Sezer Image: The Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters)

Erdoğan's supporters counter that he has increased language rights and living standards for Kurds, many of whom vote for his party.

Paylan said he will likely go to prison when he is no longer a member of parliament with immunity.

Other Peoples' Democratic Party members are already there, accused of being connected to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Turkish militant group designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

Paylan rejected the allegation. However, it has led the government to remove his party's members from mayoral posts they won in last year's municipal elections.

Elmira Bayrasli, a Turkish American who is director of Bard College's globalization and international affairs program, said the Hagia Sophia decision represented Erdoğan's going on "the offense" in the face of increasing challenges, some of them from new splinter parties from his Justice and Development Party.

Turkey. Erdogan offers himself a prayer at Hagia Sophia, converted into a mosque

 Turkey. Erdogan offers himself a prayer at Hagia Sophia, converted into a mosque © AFP PHOTO / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE / Murat CETINMUHURDAR Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to participate in the first Muslim prayer in the former Holy Basilica -Sophie since her conversion into a mosque. Two weeks after deciding to convert the old Hagia Sophia into a mosque, the Turkish president will participate today in the first Muslim prayer to be given there.

"My guess is it's only going to get worse," Bayrasli said. "He's desperate to hold onto power."

Feminist activists blame the government's conservatism for what they say is a steady rise in gender-based violence.

The deputy chairman of the Justice and Development Party suggested this month that Turkey might exit the Istanbul Convention, a treaty to protect women from violence.

In a telephone interview, Neslihan Duran, 24, a student at Gaza University in Ankara, said that "with such policies, women are designated as an inferior gender."

Duran helped set up a Twitter campaign to call for justice for fellow university student Şule Çet, who was raped and killed in 2018. Duran argued that the government's promotion of conservative religious values led to Çet's being criticized during the trial for not being a virgin.

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For Yusuf Erim, 40, a Muslim Turk, Erdoğan's conservatism is a reminder to the country's Muslims that they are part of a larger Islamic community.

Erim, an editor-at-large for the Turkish state broadcaster, TRT, said turning the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque was another way to do that. He said he believed Muslims around the world would flock to pray at the historic building.

"Let's call it an Islamic bucket list," he said over the phone.

The almost 1,500-year-old monument is significant both for Christians, because it was built as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire, and Muslims, because it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453.

Thousands gather for first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years

  Thousands gather for first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years Worshippers gathered at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul after the controversial move from the Turkish government to re-convert the museum into a mosque. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was taking part in the first prayers to be held in the building in 86 years. Huge crowds of worshippers were seen gathering outside the building in Istanbul, many of whom had camped out overnight.

a close up of a church: Image: The Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters) © Murad Sezer Image: The Hagia Sophia (Murad Sezer / Reuters)

Erim said that under Erdoğan, Turkey has been transformed into a regional power because of its major infrastructure projects and military campaigns.

"How can you not be proud?" he asked. "I can say, 'Wow, my country has come a long way.'"

Others were less excited about the Hagia Sophia's being converted into a mosque. The U.S. State Department said it was "disappointed."

Asked for comment, the Turkish government pointed to Erdoğan's speech last week in which he said the building would be open to "locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims."

Paylan, the member of parliament with the Peoples' Democratic Party, feared that the decision would lead to a backlash against Muslims while Christians in Turkey have a sacred symbol of their history taken away.

"This is going to make the tension bigger between the Muslims and the Christians," he said.


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Thousands gather for first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years .
Worshippers gathered at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul after the controversial move from the Turkish government to re-convert the museum into a mosque. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was taking part in the first prayers to be held in the building in 86 years. Huge crowds of worshippers were seen gathering outside the building in Istanbul, many of whom had camped out overnight.

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