President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree opening Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia for worship as a mosque Friday, after a Turkish court annulled a 1934 government decree turning it into a museum, despite international warnings against such a move.
Erdogan shared on his Twitter feed a copy of the decree he had signed which said the decision had been taken to hand control of the Ayasofya Mosque, as it is known in Turkish, to the country’s religious directorate and reopen it for worship.
Erdogan had proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge 6th century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said in a ruling.
“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.
Greece’s culture ministry called the decision an ‘open provocation’ to the civilized world.
“Today’s decision, which came as a result of the political will of President (Tayyip) Erdogan, is an open provocation to the civilized world which recognizes the unique value and ecumenical nature of the monument,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a written statement.
The association which brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia was the property of the Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.
The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added huge calligraphic panels bearing the Arabic names of the early Muslim caliphs alongside the monument’s ancient Christian iconography.
Source: REUTERS via HAARETZ