The 1934 cabinet decision by Kemal Ataturk to turn it into a museum was unanimously cancelled by the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court
Instanbul| One of the architectural wonders of the world, the iconic museum Hagia Sophia in Turkey’s Istanbul would be reopened for Muslim worship, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday. The announcement sparked fury in the Christian community and neighbouring Greece.
This comes after a Turkish court revoked the UNESCO World Heritage site’s status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque.
The sixth-century Byzantine monument in historic Istanbul, a popular tourist spot, was constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
The 1934 cabinet decision by Kemal Ataturk to turn it into a museum was unanimously cancelled by the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, which said Hagia Sophia was registered as a mosque in its property deeds. Ataturk, being the first President of Turkey, had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum to display Turkey’s secular spirit. Ataturk is celebrated for the astonishing progressive changes he brought in Turkey including the scrapping of Hijab. Many say that President Erdogan is taking this step to dismantle Ataturk’s secular legacy, and remould it the way he wants.
The landmark decision is speculated to inflame tensions not just with the West and Turkey’s historic foe Greece but also Russia, with which Erdogan has maintained close partnership in recent years.
Greece, branding the move by Muslim-majority Turkey an “open provocation to the civilised world”, said, “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan… takes his country back six centuries,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.
The Russian Orthodox Church also expressed its disappointment.
“The concern of millions of Christians were not heard,” Vladimir Legoida, Church spokesman told Interfax news agency.
He stressed that the decision “shows that all pleas regarding the need to handle the situation extremely delicately were ignored.”
Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO chief said she “deeply regrets” the decision made without prior dialogue with the UN’s cultural agency.