The dreams of procreating the glory of a plunderous Ottoman Empire has led the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convert Hagia Sophia from a secular Museum into a Mosque. The repercussion of this move can be felt across the geopolitical landscape of Europe as it has sent warning bells ringing on the doors of European biggies like France, Italy, and others that a new dictatorial leader in its immediate neighborhood is looking to wage a battle on religious extremism grounds.
Hagia Sophia—Erdogan’s battleground, on both Domestic and International front
Turkey has inadvertently passed the message that it would not stop at anything to antagonize the West by seeking political legitimacy for Islamic radicalism which in its foundation seeks to celebrate the brutality of the Caliphate rule. Erdogan thinks of himself as wannabe Khalifa who has the responsibility to usher the Muslims of the world into a bygone era.
Consequently, a Mosque in Hagia Sophia should be ‘the last straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment for Europe as Turkey has crossed the line this time around.
It’s clear as chalk and cheese that Erdogan wants to make Hagia Sophia his latest battleground at both domestic and international levels and Europe needs to be wary of it. It should realize that a bigger threat than China is lurking in its vicinity and that is Turkey, which is increasingly becoming radicalized under Erdogan’s rule.
Libyan battlefield—France, Italy and the rest of EU
The Libyan battlefield is where Turkey is getting most of its arrogance to go ahead with such a unilateral decision. The Government of National Accord (GNA) backed by the UN and with the support of Turkey is presenting a unique scenario in front of the world.
The GNA so far has bulldozed the opposition faction of the Libyan National Army (LNA) which has the backing of the undisputed leader of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, and other countries like Russia, Egypt, with France and Italy, so far being in the shadows.
France had been only sending covert mercenaries to LNA up until now, but the recent uptick in Turkish activities going against France’s interests in the region has provoked Macron to assume a much larger and vociferous voice in the situation.
France has always been wary of the Islamist regime of Erdogan and its idiosyncrasies but tensions between the two NATO allies recently escalated after a standoff between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean on June 10 and the latest radical move of Erdogan is surely going to add more fire to Macron’s fury.
The war of words between Turkey’s Erdogan and France’s Emanuel Macron has been ongoing since November, last year.
It all started when Erdogan had advised his French counterpart to “check whether he is brain dead” as the Turkish administration and again blamed France for “dragging Libya into chaos,”
A couple of weeks back Macron had called Turkey’s support for the Libyan government a “dangerous game” and urged Erdogan to end his activities in the war-torn country.
Italy needs to shed the garb of neutrality
Italy which toes the line of UN on global platforms secretly supports the LNA from the backdoor. However, it has been awfully quiet to show its support to the cause by donning the garb of neutrality. Italian PM Giuseppe Conte had even met Haftar in January this year and it was speculated that Italy will play a much larger hand in the region, but so far Italy has shown no initiative.
Rome clearly sees Haftar led LNA as crucial in stemming the flow of African and Arabic refugees and migrants to Italy. However, it has done nothing as such to support this cause but the turning of Hagia Sophia into an Islamic place of worship should make it flinch as it is a big political statement against the whole of Europe and the West in particular.
As for France, its position in the Mediterranean is threatened and it doesn’t augur well for Macron’s foreign policy.
A declaration was signed in May by a combined bloc of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, UAE, and France, denouncing Turkey’s illegal drilling efforts around Cyprus, its military intervention in Libya, and its maritime borders deal with the GNA.
The international reactions over turning of Hagia Sophia into a mosque have been varied as Cyprus which has signed the declaration with France denounced Turkey’s new move.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot, posted on his official Twitter account that Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.
EU condemns Turkey’s decision but still no cohesive policy on Turkey
Even the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision “regrettable” and hence its high time that the EU nations come up with a cohesive policy against Turkey. “The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey’s landmark decisions and President Erdogan’s decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable,” he said in a statement released to the press.
Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Greek Orthodox Church and remained so until the conquest of Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire by the Ottomans.
Greece was particularly miffed by Erdogan and branded Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilised world”, and its Culture Minister – Lina Mendoni said, “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan…takes his country back six centuries,”
As the Libyan War continues to divide the Muslim world with different factions emerging criticizing Turkey–the conversion of the museum to Mosque has invited a similar not-so-positive response from the Muslim world.
The West is bound to get perturbed, especially due to the presence of the evangelical Christian elements who are not going to take this lying down. They are going to turn reactionary. Turkey has already fallen out of favour with the governments of these countries but an extremist move of this level is going to have some serious repercussions.
The Ottoman Empire had plundered and looted the Eastern Romans. Hagia Sophia’s status as a monument observes pacification, but its conversion into a Mosque will exhibit a sense of historical domination. If the European bloc of nations doesn’t strategize well after Turkey’s radical overtures then it might be too late to oversee the charge of the wannabe Khalifa which surely is coming sooner or later.