Turkish top court to review status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum




Turkey’s highest administrative court will on Thursday review a petition calling for Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum to be reconverted into a mosque.

Built by the Byzantines, it was the largest church in Christendom from the 6th century for nearly a millennium, where emperors were crowned.

It was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, in 1453 led by Sultan Mehmet II (the Conqueror).

Four minarets were added to the structure.

Its status was changed to a museum after a 1934 decree.

The court’s decision could come on Thursday or within 15 days, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Religious hardliners have long demanded that the UNESCO World Heritage Site be made a mosque again.

Before elections last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of the possibility of naming it a mosque.

It is a divisive issue in Turkey, where many view Hagia Sophia’s current status as emblematic of the country’s secular constitution.

Opposition parties see the revival of the debate as Erdogan’s way of rallying his Islamic conservative base while distracting from an economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

The petition being heard in the Council of State was brought by a little-known association, whose 75-year-old head, Ismail Kandemir, has been fighting for 26 years for the change.

He recently told Kanal7 TV that he has “dedicated his life” for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for Islamic prayers.

Kandemir is seeking an annulment of the decree by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, which changed the status of the monument to a museum.

The retired teacher alleged that Ataturk’s signature on the decree was fake.

He recalled praying secretly at the Hagia Sophia in his 20s and is now determined to do so “freely”.

In May, the Koran’s al-Fath sura resounded from the monument to commemorate the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.

Erdogan joined the event via videoconference.

Towering over Istanbul’s skyline, its breath-taking domes seemingly afloat, Hagia Sophia is a cultural landmark for both Christians and Muslims and is visited by millions of tourists each year.

The Istanbul governor’s office said there were 3.7 million visitors in 2019 alone.

Also part of the UNESCO heritage listing from 1985 is the historic Blue Mosque, which is located across the square from Hagia Sophia.

It is open to both tourists and worshippers.

“The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world and Hagia Sophia, which, due to its sacredness, is a vital centre where East is embraced with the West, will fracture these two worlds,’’ said Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, in Istanbul on Tuesday.

In an open letter on Wednesday, scores of Byzantine and Ottoman scholars from across the world appealed: “Hagia Sophia is too beautiful a monument and too precious a historical document to serve as a pawn in regional politics’’.

They noted that there has been a room for Islamic prayer within the complex since 1991, and a full-time Imam since 2016.

“Thus, in a certain sense, Hagia Sophia is currently functioning as both a museum and a mosque,’’ they wrote.

Any change in status could inflame tensions with Greece, as Athens condemns the use of the former seat of the Greek Orthodox Church for religious purposes.

Turkey has derided Greece, saying Athens is the only European capital without a mosque.

The United States urged Turkey to maintain the site as a museum.

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said on Wednesday that a change in status would diminish the legacy of the monument “and its unsurpassed ability … to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures’’.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hami Aksoy, responded that Hagia Sophia “like all cultural assets on our land, is the property of Turkey’’.

Turkish media have reported that Islamic prayers could be held there on July 15, the fourth anniversary of a failed coup.


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

Short Link:

Babatunde Abdulfatah

Babatunde Abdulfatah: NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. We are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and we strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor @ Disclaimer.

FRSC solicits motorists’ support to minimise crashes Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens Solidarity Camp Tunis – Final report of the two-day tournament Neymar extends PSG deal until 2025 Ogun Govt., Private Firms Empower 100 Youths Coronavirus – Nigeria: COVID-19 case update (May 8, 2021) Okowa mourns ex-minister Aisha Alhassan Ogun Govt. Re-Affirms Commitment To Boost Agric Sector UNIBEN warns admission seekers against racketeers Video press release: Rugby Africa 7-a-side solidarity camp – Day 2: All matches will be broadcast live Saturday and Sunday on Rugby Africa’s Facebook page and Rugby Africa’s YouTube channel “I believe in united Nigeria, not secession” — Umahi Walscheid takes the 8th place of the Qhubeka ASSOS team during the first stage of the Giro d’Italia US, foundation empower school girls with technological skills Gunmen attack police stations in Rivers kill 7 officers Police arrest 8 suspected kidnappers in Osun INEC engages stakeholders on polling points’ conversion in Oyo Opening remarks by the WHO Director-General at the high-level emergency virtual meeting of African ministers of health on the COVID-19 situation in Africa Coronavirus – Zimbabwe: COVID-19 update (May 7, 2021) Ramadan: RMAFC Chairman Mbam urges Nigerians to be tolerant, brothers’ keepers B-roll: African rugby teams meet to prepare for the Olympics and Olympic draft – Day 1 Troops foil kidnap attempt, kill 1 bandit in Kaduna D’banj leads Nigeria to Motorsport Championships Super league – FIFA chief Infantino: “We need to face the problems in football together” Forum tasks FG on MSMEs growth Video press release: Rugby Africa Sevens Solidarity Camp: All matches will be broadcast live Saturday and Sunday on Rugby Africa’s Facebook page and Rugby Africa’s YouTube channel APC will take over Rivers Govt House in 2023- State Chairman Coronavirus – Nigeria: COVID-19 case update (May 7, 2021) FRSC enjoins passengers to caution reckless drivers Coronavirus – Daily update of the state of COVID-19 statistics in Zambia (May 7, 2021) Atiku mourns ex-Minister of Women Affairs, Alhassan Bird flu: Bauchi govt. kills about 27,000 birds to curtail spread Heirs Oil & Gas announces the appointments of its CEO and Board of Directors NCDC records 39 new infections, zero death Victor Campenaerts warming up for the Giro d’Italia time trial on Zwift Abuja residents count losses as FCDA demolishes illegal structures Rugby Africa Sevens Solidarity Camp: All matches will be broadcast live on Saturday and Sunday on Rugby Africa’s Facebook page and Rugby Africa’s YouTube channel Adimula Commissions PTI Skill Development Academy Coronavirus – Rwanda: COVID-19 update (May 6, 2021) JUSUN, PASAN strike to end soon – FG Coronavirus – Eswatini: COVID-19 daily update (May 6, 2021) Jagun emerges new president of computer professionals council Coronavirus – Eritrea: Ministry of Health announcement (May 6, 2021) Lagos to connect 100 schools to internet in May – Sanwo-Olu #EndSARS: Insurance companies pay N4bn claims – NIA NCDC confirms 28 new COVID-19 infections in Nigeria Coronavirus – Daily update on the status of COVID-19 statistics in Zambia (May 6, 2021) Manchester United cruise into Europa League final, Arsenal slump Mining Indaba expands advisory board for 2022 Kogi Gov., Bello commiserates with Pastor Adeboye over son’s demise Angolan Petroleum Agency to host question and answer sessions for next application cycle FG inaugurates committees on National Policy on welding