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Turkey converts a 1,500-year-old World Famous Hagia Sophia Museum into a Mosque

  • Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the country’s highest administrative court’s ruling of annulling the museum status of Hagia Sophia Museum (a 1,500-year-old, iconic museum and a World Heritage Site). The court ruling on Friday has paved the way for the Erdogan-led Turkish government to convert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia into a mosque (a Muslim house of worship). In a press conference, Erdogan said that the first Muslim prayers after the ruling will be held inside Hagia Sophia on July 24, 2020. He went on to add that “like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims”. Hagia Sophia was originally built 1,500 years back as an Orthodox Christian cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire. However, this monument was converted into a mosque after the 1453’s Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. A cabinet decision (in sync with the secular legacy of modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk) of 1934 turned the sixth-century Byzantine monument into a museum. The process of annulling the museum status of the iconic Hagia Sophia started when a hardline Islamist group contested the legality of the 1934 cabinet decision and stressed on the fact that the monument was the personal property of Istanbul’s 1453 conqueror, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, unanimously canceled the 1934 cabinet decision as they agree with the petition that Hagia Sophia was registered as a mosque in its property deeds. The administrative court’s decision was in sync with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s calls to turn the hugely symbolic world heritage site into a mosque. While the secular opposition members of Turkey have opposed this move, both political and religious leaders across the world have criticized the Erdogan government’s move. However, Turkish President Erdogan has responded by saying that the country has exercised its sovereign right in converting it back to a mosque. UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay has said that she "deeply regrets" the decision made by Erdogan without carrying out a prior dialogue with the UN's cultural agency. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the Erdogan government’s move by calling it an "unequivocal politicization" of the monument. The decision of converting the museum to a mosque has been criticized by neighboring Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni in a statement saying: “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan... takes his country back six centuries.” The spokesperson of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Vladimir Legoida, has told media that the Turkish court decision didn’t hear the concern of millions of Christians. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shared a presidential decree (published on the official gazette) naming Hagia Sophia as a “mosque” and handing over the monument’s administration to Turkey's religious affairs directorate known as Diyanet. Political analysts believe that this move of Erdogan will consolidate his position among his hardliner Islamist supporters and also distract attention from the economic damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.