Hagia Sophia, whose fate has now been converted from a secular Museum into a Mosque exemplifying the glory of a plunderous Ottoman empire, is bound to emerge as a tremendous bone of contention between Christians and Muslims worldwide. Under a rabidly radical Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an administrative court ruled on Saturday that Hagia Sophia was to be converted into a Mosque, effectively overturning the country’s founder – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s decision to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a museum open for all.
The world community is dismayed, and is visibly irritated with Erdogan heralding into Turkey a popular nationalist sentiment, which in reality is nothing more than crude Islamism. As such, symbols of interfaith camaraderie are being turned into Mosques, in what are ways for Erdogan to solidify his ambitions of becoming the Caliph of the Muslim world.
As a muslim, I feel ashamed before my Christian brothers and sister for what #Erdogan has done to #HagiaSophia #AyasofyaCamidir. This is not what Islam preaches for, this is not what our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) taught us.
— حسن سجواني 🇦🇪 Hassan Sajwani (@HSajwanization) July 10, 2020
Greece has minced no words, and its cultural minister lambasted Erdogan-led Turkey for the unilateral change of status of the iconic Hagia Sophia. For the record, 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 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,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement. He added that the move “absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice” in Turkey.
The Russian Orthodox Church was particularly outraged by Erdogan using the country’s joke of a judiciary to superimpose his own will over Hagia Sophia. “The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax. “Today’s court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored,” Legoida said. Officially, meanwhile, Russia voiced its disappointment at the decision. Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian upper house of parliament, while calling the action “a mistake”, said, “Turning it into a mosque will not do anything for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, but on the contrary brings them into collision.”
Voicing the US’ protest, Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson, said in a statement, “We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia…We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”
Josep Borrel, the European Union’s foreign policy chief called Erdogan’s decision regrettable, and added, “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.”
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot himself, said 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”.
UNESCO, meanwhile, while saying the decision was “regrettable,” said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status. It remarked that it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand“.
“UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialog without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the United Nation’s cultural body said in a statement.
As is evident, Erdogan’s unilateral move to change the status of the Hagia Sophia museum, which is revered both by Christians and Muslims alike, has not gone down well with the world community, and interestingly, not even Turkey’s supposed ‘allies’ are standing in its support on this count.