Reactions pour in as Turkey converts Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque
Erdoğan made the announcement on Friday an hour after the court ruling was revealed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open for Islamic worship after a top court ruled that the structure’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman, Mustafa Kemal Attatürk, was illegal.
Erdoğan made the announcement on Friday an hour after the court ruling was revealed. This was notwithstanding international warnings not to alter the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
Erdoğan had previously proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a point of convergence of both the Muslim Ottoman and Christian Byzantine empires, and now one of the most visited monuments in the world.
Earlier, a top Turkish court revoked the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. The Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish religious organization, canceled a 1934 cabinet decision that defined the sixth-century building as a museum.
“It was concluded that the settlement deed awarded it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” Turkey’s top administrative court said in the ruling.
“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.
Erdoğan tweeted a feed a copy of the decree he had signed, which said the decision had been taken to hand control of the Ayasofya Mosque (as it is known in Turkish) to the country’s religious directorate and reopen it for worship.
Hayırlı olsun. pic.twitter.com/MzP6nzn9Jc
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 10, 2020
Hundreds of people gathered outside Hagia Sophia as soon as the decision was announced. They were seen chanting and celebrating. Some of them were impatient to be able to pray inside Hagia Sophia.
The Russian Orthodox Church’s spokesman Vladimir Legoida expressed dismay at Turkey’s decision to revoke the museum status of Hagia Sophia, accusing it of ignoring the voices of millions of Christians.
Previously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, based in Istanbul, said converting it back into a mosque would upset Christians and would “fracture” West and East.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot, condemned the move in a tweet.
— NikosChristodoulides (@Christodulides) July 10, 2020
Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said that the court ruling “absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice” in Turkey.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chief 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.
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