Turkey to determine whether or not to redesignate iconic Hagia Sophia as mosque, not museum


Turkey’s high courtroom will ship a important verdict Thursday on whether or not Istanbul’s emblematic landmark and former church Hagia Sophia may be redesignated as a mosque, a ruling which might inflame tensions with the West.

The sixth-century edifice — a magnet for vacationers worldwide with its beautiful structure — has been a museum since 1935, open to believers of all faiths.

Despite occasional protests by Islamic teams, typically shouting, “Let the chains break and open Hagia Sophia” for Muslim prayers outdoors the UNESCO world heritage web site, authorities have thus far stored the constructing a museum.

The Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a church within the Christian Byzantine Empire within the sixth century however was transformed right into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Transforming the Hagia Sophia right into a museum was a key reform of the post-Ottoman Turkish authorities below the fashionable republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

But requires it to serve once more as a mosque have raised anger amongst Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy NATO allies Turkey and Greece.

Turkey’s Council of State will ship a ruling on its standing both on the identical day or inside two weeks, the official Anadolu information company reported.

‘High-profile image’ 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan final month stated the choice was for the courtroom — often called the Danistay — including: “The necessary steps will be taken following the verdict.”

But Erdogan beforehand indicated it was time to rename the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, saying it had been a “very big mistake” to transform it right into a museum, in feedback earlier than municipal elections final 12 months.

“The Danistay decision will likely be a political one. Whatever the outcome, it will be a result of the government’s deliberation,” stated Asli Aydintasbas, fellow on the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But she added the federal government might be weighing quite a lot of points, together with relations with Greece, Europe and with the US the place “religion is an important matter”.

Anthony Skinner of the chance evaluation agency Verisk Maplecroft stated changing the Hagia Sophia right into a mosque would “kill at least two birds with one stone” for Erdogan: he might cater to his Islamic and nationalist base, and maintain if not exacerbate tensions with Greece, all whereas searching for to forged Turkey as a formidable energy.

“Erdogan could not find a more high-profile and potent symbol than Hagia Sophia to achieve all these goals at once,” he informed AFP.

The Turkish chief has in recent times positioned ever higher emphasis on the battles which resulted within the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans, with lavish celebrations held yearly to mark the conquest.

In May, Muslim clerics recited prayers within the museum to rejoice the anniversary after the primary Koran recital in 85 years contained in the Hagia Sophia in 2015.

In 2016, the state non secular channel broadcast a Koran recitation by a unique senior Turkish cleric contained in the museum on every day of the holy month of Ramadan.

Turks divided 

Greece carefully follows the way forward for Byzantine heritage in Turkey and is delicate to the difficulty because it sees itself as the fashionable succession to Orthodox Christian Byzantium.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, who despatched a letter of protest to UNESCO final week, stated the transfer “rekindles national and religious fanaticism” and is an try to “diminish the monument’s global radiance”.

She accused the federal government of utilizing the monument “to serve internal political interests,” arguing that solely UNESCO had the authority to vary Hagia Sophia’s standing.

The subject can be adopted carefully in Washington.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, and to make sure it stays accessible to all.

“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability… to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures.”

But Turks are divided over its future standing.

Mahmut Karagoz, an Istanbul shoemaker, 55, goals he can sooner or later pray below the dome of Hagia Sophia.

“It is a legacy by our Ottoman ancestors. I hope our prayers will be heard, this nostalgia must come to an end,” he informed AFP.

However Sena Yildiz, an economics pupil, believes the Hagia Sophia ought to retain its museum standing.

“It is an important place for Muslims, but also for Christians and for all those who love history,” she stated.


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