Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday that the Hagia Sophia, one of the architectural wonders of the world, would be reopened for Muslim worship, sparking fury in the Christian...
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday that the Hagia Sophia, one of the architectural wonders of the world, would be reopened for Muslim worship, sparking fury in the Christian community and neighbouring Greece.
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 historic 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.
The landmark ruling will inflame tensions not just with the West and Turkey’s historic foe Greece but also Russia, with which Erdogan has forged an increasingly close partnership in recent years. Greece branded the move by Muslim-majority Turkey 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 was equally scathing.
"The concern of millions of Christians were not heard," Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida told Interfax news agency. The decision "shows that all pleas regarding the need to handle the situation extremely delicately were ignored," he said.
The UN cultural agency Unesco earlier on Friday had warned Turkey against converting Hagia Sophia, urging dialogue before any decision was taken. The US has also urged against altering its status. Hagia Sophia, which stands opposite the impressive Sultanahmet Mosque -- often called the Blue Mosque, has been a museum since 1935 and open to believers of all faiths.