Saturday, July 11, 2020

Turkish authorities again turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia) is deprived of the status of a museum and registered as a mosque, Anadolu agency reports citing the conclusion of the State Council of the country.

Earlier on Friday, it became known that the Turkish State Council canceled the government’s decree of 1935 on assigning the status of a museum to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. This decision gave the Turkish authorities a legitimate opportunity to turn the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque.

Earlier, many religious figures and cultural organizations around the world opposed this step, saying that the monument belongs to all of humanity.

The Turkish court was to make a final decision on this issue on July 2, but after a 17-minute review, it announced that it would announce the verdict within 15 days.

Earlier it was reported that if the Turkish State Council approves the change of status, the first big prayer in the cathedral could be held on July 15.

Hagia Sophia: the legendary museum can again become a mosque
The fact that the status of the Hagia Sophia Museum can be revised, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last spring. It was reported that this was a kind of response to the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by Washington.

Reaction in the world
Against plans to turn the museum into a mosque were political and religious figures in the United States, Greece, Russia and Turkey itself.

Greece called this decision an "open provocation."

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) said it deeply regrets what happened. In 1985, the museum building was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Russian Orthodox Church condemned this decision, saying that the feelings of millions of Christians were ignored.

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said that turning the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque could turn millions of Christians around the world against Islam. "Hagia Sophia as a museum is a place and symbol of the meeting, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam," he said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry, in response to a call to abandon the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, said that Ankara has the right to change the status of the cathedral without taking into account the views of other states.

Hagia Sophia is one of the main symbols of Istanbul and a place of attraction for many tourists visiting the city.

"The Turks are proud of their secular Muslim nation. The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will take away this pride from the people. Millions of secular people in Turkey loudly objected to this, but their voices were not heard. Because in Turkey, unfortunately, there is no more freedom of speech and democracy "- said the BBC famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.

What is the cathedral famous for
The first mention of the cathedral dates back to 300 years of our era. At the very beginning of its existence, the cathedral survived the fire and was rebuilt.

The cathedral is located on the place where until the 4th century the market square was located. In its present form, the building was opened in 537. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of the cathedral.

According to historical chronicles, the construction of the cathedral spent three annual income of the Byzantine Empire.

Until the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, St. Sophia Cathedral remained the largest Christian church in the world.

In 989, the dome of the cathedral, which was restored five years later, collapsed due to a strong earthquake.

In 1453, after the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, Sultan Mehmed II turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. After the capture of the cathedral, numerous values ​​stored in it were plundered, and ancient icons were destroyed. Nevertheless, some Christian frescoes and mosaics were preserved under a layer of plaster and were restored during restoration work in the 30s of the XX century.

During the Ottoman rule, minarets were erected along the edges of the building. For nearly 500 years, Hagia Sophia was one of the main Muslim shrines - the second after the Kaaba in Mecca.

In 1935, the founder of modern secular Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, converted the mosque into a museum with a special decree.

In 1985, the museum building was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

"Challenge to the West and Christianity"
Commentary by Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts, historian and art theorist, Byzantologist Alexei Lidov.

If we discard the outer husk, this is a declaration of war - to the Christian world, European democracy, international institutions, since they all spoke out clearly against changing status.

I personally signed several letters, including the international letter of all the leading Byzantologists of the world, from all countries. By the way, there were several professors from Turkey too.

But Erdogan bit the bit, knowing full well what the reaction would be, and a priori did not give a damn about this reaction.

There is no practical sense in turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque. There is a huge Blue Mosque nearby, many mosques in the neighborhood, there is no practical need for this.

This is a pure symbol of the historical victory over the Christian empire in 1453 and, as it were, such a symbolic repetition of this victory today by Erdogan.

Erdogan, in my opinion, decided to finally abandon Ataturk's strategy - turning Turkey into a modern European democratic state.

Prior to Sofia, a number of monuments were turned into mosques, in particular Kahriye-jami (Chora Monastery) - the second most important Byzantine monument in Turkey with unique mosaics of the early 14th century.

The question will arise about the withdrawal of Hagia Sophia from the UNESCO list due to violation of storage conditions and access to unique Byzantine mosaics, which, of course, cannot be in the existing mosque.

They will have to somehow either be removed from the walls or closed. This calculated risk to the Turkish authorities is not very worrying.

Another risk is that Erdogan will now blackmail the West out of NATO: that if you criticize me strongly, then I still have such a trump card. And I think blackmail can happen.

For the past four years, he has been blackmailing the world by changing the status of Hagia Sophia. I think a number of factors have worked here. Firstly, Erdogan realized that he did not succeed in an affair with the West, that he was much more beneficial in his status as the new leader of the Muslim world. Secondly, he has very difficult choices ahead. His political situation is not at all as solid as before, and he really counts on the support of the Muslim electorate, which, of course, is extremely sympathetic to this idea of ​​turning Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.

It is clear that the country will suffer obvious, including material, losses. A ticket to visit Hagia Sophia was quite expensive. The museum was visited by up to 4 million people a year. For the cultural budget of Turkey, this is quite a lot of money. With these funds it was possible to carry out restoration and security work, but this was neglected.

But I think that practical Turks understood this all well. Erdogan figured out and realized that the political dividends from this decision are much more important than any other income.

#Recep Tayyip Erdogan