Jubilation, Dismay at Status Change of Turkish Landmark

Muslims thrilled Hagia Sophia to be reconverted to a mosque; Orthodox Christians, not so much
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 10, 2020 11:42 AM CDT
Iconic Museum Is Turned Back Into a Mosque
Here, a view of the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, on Friday.   (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reconverted Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia into a mosque and declared it open to Muslim worship, hours after a court annulled a 1934 decision that had turned it into a museum. The decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia—a former cathedral that was turned into a mosque after Istanbul's conquest by the Ottoman Empire and had served as a museum for 86 years—sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians, per the AP. But there was jubilation outside Hagia Sophia, with dozens of people chanting, "Allah is great!" Turkey's high administrative court threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled a 1934 decision that turned the site into a museum. Within hours, Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey's Religious Affairs Presidency.

Erdogan had demanded that the hugely symbolic UNESCO World Heritage Site be turned back into a mosque despite widespread international criticism, including from the US and Orthodox Christian leaders. Nationalist and conservative groups have long been yearning to hold prayers at Hagia Sophia, which they regard as part of the Muslim Ottoman legacy. Others believe the site 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 Mehmed II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453. The court ruled Hagia Sophia was the property of a foundation managing the sultan's assets and was opened up to the public as a mosque. More here.

(More Turkey stories.)

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