Search
+

    Turkish president Erdogan formally makes Hagia Sophia a mosque

    AP|
    ​Change of status
    1/9

    ​Change of status

    The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formally converted Istanbul's sixth-century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum.


    In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside Hagia Sofia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.

    AP
    ​Hagia Sophia
    2/9

    ​Hagia Sophia

    Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amid ornate marble and mosaic decorations.


    The minarets were added later, and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople-- the city that is now called Istanbul.

    The building opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers' decision. Mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary and Christian saints that were plastered over in line with Islamic rules were uncovered through arduous restoration work for the museum.

    Reuters
    ​Celebrations
    3/9

    ​Celebrations

    There was jubilation outside the terracotta-hued structure with its cascading domes and four minarets. Dozens of people awaiting the court's ruling chanted ``Allah is great!'' when the news broke. A large crowd later prayed outside it.


    In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.

    Getty Images
    ​Sparking resilience
    4/9

    ​Sparking resilience

    The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians. Originally a cathedral, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque after Istanbul's conquest by the Ottoman Empire but had been a museum for the last 86 years, drawing millions of tourists annually.

    AFP
    ​Implications
    5/9

    ​Implications

    Erdogan had spoken in favor of turning the hugely symbolic UNESCO World Heritage site back into a mosque despite widespread international criticism, including from U.S. and Orthodox Christian leaders, who had urged Turkey to keep its status as a museum symbolizing solidarity among faiths and cultures.


    ``Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals or foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,'' Erdogan said.

    AFP
    ​UNESCO contests the move
    6/9

    ​UNESCO contests the move

    In Paris, the United Nations cultural body, UNESCO, said Hagia Sophia is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a property inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List as a museum.


    ``States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the `outstanding universal value' of inscribed sites on their territories,'' Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.

    AFP
    ​Reactions from the neighbours
    7/9

    ​Reactions from the neighbours

    The move threatens to deepen tensions with neighboring Greece, whose prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, condemned the decision as an affront to Hagia Sophia's ecumenical character.


    In Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church and chanted, ``We'll light candles in Hagia Sophia!'' and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.

    Cyprus ``strongly condemns Turkey's actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations,'' tweeted Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

    AFP
    ​The debate goes on
    8/9

    ​The debate goes on

    The debate hits at the heart of Turkey's religious-secular divide. Nationalist and conservative groups in Turkey have long yearned to hold prayers at Hagia Sophia, which they regard as part of the Muslim Ottoman legacy. Others believe it should remain a museum, as a symbol of Christian and Muslim solidarity.


    The group that brought the case to court had contested the legality of the 1934 decision by the modern Turkish republic's secular government ministers, arguing the building was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453.

    Getty Images
    What US said
    9/9

    What US said

    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that the landmark should remain a museum to serve as bridge between faiths and cultures. His comments drew a rebuke from Turkey's Foreign Ministry, which said Hagia Sophia was a domestic issue of Turkish national sovereignty.


    Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the Hagia Sophia issue to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party.

    Reuters
    The Economic Times
    X
    User