We are at zero hour for Hagia Sophia. Tomorrow, the Turkish Council of State will decide whether the historic church will be converted into a mosque or it will remain a museum.
The Council of State will rule on the matter tomorrow, but the media are already creating an environment in which the fanatics wait for the decision and insist that on July 15 “thousands of believers will be praying in Hagia Sophia.” However, the Turkish court’s proposal is not binding and the Turkish president could bypass it.
In this context, in his homily at the Church of the Holy Apostles, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed his concern noting, among other things, that a possible decision to turn it into a mosque would turn all Christianity against Islam.
According to an article in the newspaper “Ta Nea,” this statement provoked a strong reaction from politicians who accused the Ecumenical Patriarch of exceeding the limits while stating that Hagia Sophia is now a Turkish-Islamic monument.
In 2016, the Ecumenical Patriarch sent a letter to the then director of religious affairs in Turkey, stressing that any change in the status of Hagia Sophia would be inappropriate and deleterious because it would lead to conflict.
The Ecumenical Patriarch stressed that the church is now a classic historic building and does not belong to one owner but to all humankind.
Hagia Sophia, once a symbol of Byzantine rule, has been operating as a museum for the past 85 years, receiving millions of visitors a year, and its status has not been challenged for decades, even in the most difficult times for Greek-Turkish relations.
At the same time, it is a monument of world cultural heritage, which has been admired by hundreds of figures, such as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the former US President Barack Obama.
A series of statements by top Erdogan ministers have been made a few weeks prior to the court’s ruling. These statements largely prejudice the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
Athens has already launched a campaign to inform UNESCO Member States, but in Ankara the press has long gone into detail even on how the ornate mosaics of the church will be covered, as reported by the newspaper “Ta Nea”.
“We are a few days away from holding a prayer in Hagia Sophia. Our President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Turkish nation are waiting for the decision of the Council of State. On July 15, tens of thousands are preparing to pray in Hagia Sophia,” as reported by Anadolu Agency.
On the other hand, the press in the West presents the case as another way of demonstrating power by President Erdogan. As reported by Guardian, the conversion will be the boldest message that Turkey has decisively turned away from its alliances with the west in pursuit of a greater Neo-Ottoman destiny.
“The Hagia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque is not only a matter of popular mobilisation. Stimulating a war rhetoric about the need for protecting national sovereignty, it should also be thought about in the context of the rising tension with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkish Studies at the German Institute.
“A positive ruling would also strengthen the already existing perception within Europe that Turkey acts unilaterally and does not abide by international norms and institutions.”
At the same time, the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, has called on the Turkish government to maintain the status of Hagia Sophia as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world,” he said on Twitter.
Earlier, Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni sent a letter to UNESCO delegations to inform them about Turkish government’s intention to change the status of Hagia Sophia, which is contrary to the 1972 agreement signed by Turkey.
“It must be understood that in no case should Hagia Sophia lose its universal character and be turned into a Muslim mosque,” pointed out Lina Mendoni.