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'Open Provocation': World reacts to Erdogan reconverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Hagia Sophia, a magnet for tourists worldwide, was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire

Saturday July 11, 2020 9:03 AM, ummid.com with inputs from Agencies

Hagia Sophia

Istanbul: Organisations, world bodies and Churches across the world are shocked and in disbelief as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a highly controversial move Friday announced to reconvert Hagia Sophia in a mosque.

Erdogan declared Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship on Friday after a top court ruled the building's conversion to a museum by modern Turkey's founding statesman was illegal.

Erdogan also said that the first prayers at famed Sophia will be held on July 24 for Jumma (Friday) prayers after 86 years.

Muslims too opposed the move

The move has also been slammed by a number of Muslim bodies and leaders who had earlier advised Erdogan to refrain from any such move in the time of crisis.

"The destruction of the Babri Mosque in India is a historical example of religious bigotry. We cannot do the same thing to Hagia Sophia", Dr. Sayyid M. Saeed, President of ISNA Washington, said.

A number of analysts have even termed Erdogan's bizarre move an attempt to hide his failures and please his support base.

Around 55 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll in June said the main reason for announcing the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque would be to distract from debates on Turkey’s economic crisis and to boost the government’s hand ahead of a snap election.

About Hagia Sophia

The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul, a magnet for tourists worldwide, 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.

The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge sixth-century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Responding to the latest development, UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia's status, saying it was "regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand".

"UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialog without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session," the United Nation's cultural body said in a statement.

'Open provocation'

Greece branded Turkey's move an "open provocation to the civilised world".

"The nationalism displayed by Erdogan ... takes his country back six centuries," Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

Mendoni further said the court ruling "absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice" in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia

The Russian Orthodox Church expressed dismay at Turkey's decision to revoke the museum status of Hagia Sophia, accusing it of ignoring voices of millions of Christians.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian upper house of parliament, called the action "a mistake".

"Turning it into a mosque will not do anything for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, but on the contrary brings them into collision," he said.

'Threat to the whole of Christian civilisation'

"The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard," Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

"Today's court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored," Legoida said.

The Russian Orthodox Church previously urged caution over calls to alter the status of the historic former cathedral, and Russian Patriarch Kirill said he was "deeply concerned" about such a potential move and called it a "threat to the whole of Christian civilisation".


The United States and European Union too have slammed the move. The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision "regrettable".

"The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey's landmark decisions and President Erdogan's decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable," he said in a statement.

"We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia," Morgan Ortagus, US State Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

"We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all", Morgan said.

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