After weeks of expectation, from Recep Tayyip Erdogan Talking more and more about her, in the end, the dream of every Turkish Islamist has been fulfilled: Hagia Sophiafirst – for almost 1,000 years – a Christian cathedral and then, after the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet Fatih, a mosque, it will be again. In 1935, Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkeymade it Museum to show the West that the days of animosity were over. But that’s history: Starting this Friday, Hagia Sophia will once again be a mosque.
After a petition for an Islamist association – one of whose leaders is the son of Turkish President Bilal Erdogan – the Turkish State Council, the highest administrative court in the country, has decreed that conversion in 1935 was illegal and that, therefore, Hagia Sophia can return to what it was up to 100 years ago. Erdogan, it is expected, will confirm this Friday afternoon in a televised speech.
It is expected that First big modern mass prayer in Hagia Sophia be next week, specifically on July 15: the day on which the anniversary of the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 will be celebrated.
Furthermore, this reconversion does not come without controversy or divisions. According to a survey by the company Türkiye Raporu, 46% of Turks want Hagia Sophia to become a mosque. The number almost exactly matches that of Erdogan’s voters. Of the others, 38% believe that it should continue to be a museum, which it was until now, and 13%, that Hagia Sophia would have to house Christian and Muslim prayers.
And from abroad there has also been criticism: the US, the EU, Greece and Russia asked the Turkish president to reconsider and back down. UNESCO has said that a building that is a World Heritage Site cannot have its status changed so easily.
The patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, went further: “Instead of uniting, the heritage of 1,500 years ago divides us. I am sad and dismayed: the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will make many Christians around the world turn against Islam, “the patriarch said last week.
Opening Hagia Sophia back to prayers is not a new request: Islamists in Turkey had been claiming it for years. So why Erdogan, who has been at the helm of the country since 2003, has decided to do it right now?
The answer, according to experts, is in opinion polls. “While Erdogan’s support in the polls continues to decline due to the economic crisis and the mismanagement of the pandemic of the Covid-19, Hagia Sophia’s conversion could boost its leadership image and popularity among the most Islamist and ultra-nationalist sectors of the population, “says Aykan Erdemir, director from the Turkey program of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and former member of the Turkish parliament.
“However, this it would be a one-day flower, and would offer no real solution to Turkey’s problems. Looking to the future, Erdogan hopes this will be one of the defining moments of his legacy. Even if it fails politically and economically, its followers will be able to boast of the conversion of Saint Sophia, “continues the analyst.