ISTANBUL, July 10, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan announced Friday that the Hagia Sophia, one of the
architectural wonders of the world, would be reopened for Muslim
worship, sparking fury among Christian leaders and in neighbouring
His declaration came after a top Turkish court revoked the
sixth-century Byzantine monument’s status as a museum, clearing the
way for it to be turned back into a mosque.
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 Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court,
unanimously cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and said Hagia Sophia
was registered as a mosque in its property deeds, in its detailed
reasoning seen by AFP.
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.
The Russian Orthodox Church said Turkey had ignored “millions of
Christians” with its move.
– ‘Let the chains break’ –
Hagia Sophia has been a museum since 1935 and open to believers of
Transforming it from a mosque was a key reform under the new
republic born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
The landmark ruling will inflame tensions not just with the West and
its historic foe Greece but also Russia, with which Erdogan has forged
an increasingly close partnership in recent years.
The United States has also urged against altering its status.
The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO earlier Friday warned Turkey against
converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque, urging dialogue before any
decision was taken.
Ahead of the court decision, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul shared
a picture of Hagia Sophia on his official Twitter account, with a
message: “Have a good Friday.”
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, tweeted that
Hagia Sophia would be reopened to Muslim worship “sooner or later”,
referring to a quote from Turkish poet Necip Fazil Kisakurek.
The Council of State had on July 2 debated a case brought by a
Turkish group — the Association for the Protection of Historic
Monuments and the Environment, which demanded Hagia Sophia be reopened
for Muslim prayers.
Since 2005, there have been several attempts to change the
building’s status. In 2018, the Constitutional Court rejected one
Despite occasional protests outside the site by Islamic groups,
often shouting, “Let the chains break and open Hagia Sophia” for
Muslim prayers, authorities had until now kept the building as a