Turkey turns Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia into mosque

Istanbul, Jul 10 (efe-epa).- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday signed a decree to revert the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque.

Turkey’s top administrative court earlier annulled a 1934 presidential decree that turned the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a secular museum to pave the way for the iconic building to become a mosque.

The Superior Administrative Court, known as Danistay, unanimously made the decision to declare the 1934 ministerial decision invalid, Turkish agency Anadolu reported.

The Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s most important historical and cultural heritage sites and was built in the sixth century during the Byzantine Empire.

During that period it was the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church before being converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.

In 1934 a ministerial decree converted the temple into a museum under the secular government of Kemal Ataturk.

Ismail Kandemir, head of the Association for the Service of the Historical Foundations and the Environment, filed a lawsuit to the Council of State in 2005 and another in 2016 calling for the building’s status to be restored as a mosque.

The top court on Friday ruled that the building was registered as a mosque in the Ottoman Empire and that the move to change its status to a secular building was not legal.

As a Unesco World Heritage site, the United Nations cultural body urged Turkey not to change its status.

Until fairly recently, calls from Turkish nationalists and Islamists for the building to become a place of worship were considered the opinion of a minority group.

But since the 2018 elections and a coalition between ultra-nationalists MHP and Islamists AKP, which has governed Turkey since 2002, the petition has gained traction with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently endorsing the request, Turkish political scientist Güven Gürkan Öztan told Efe.

Erdogan said last month he hoped to be “able to pray soon” in the place.

Some practical elements remain to be solved.

Amongst them is the issue of how to pray in a place full of Christian mosaics representing Byzantine emperors, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, which would be unsuitable for a mosque.

It is not plausible for the artworks to be covered again as occurred during the Ottoman era.

Perhaps what was done in the ancient Byzantine church in Trabzon, also called Hagia Sophia, where canopies were placed in the central nave to prevent the faithful from seeing the mosaics, may be the way forward.EFE-EPA


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