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AFP
July 12, 2020

Erdogan rebuffs criticism

World

AFP
July 12, 2020

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected worldwide condemnation over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it represented his country’s will to use its "sovereign rights".

Erdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced on Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the Unesco World Heritage site.

In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque.

"Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries ... attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights," Erdogan said during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.

A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia 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.

Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation by a top court of a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum. "We made this decision not looking at what others say but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere," the Turkish leader said on Saturday.