Istanbul, March 25, 2019
It is within the realm of possibility to legally change the status of Agia Sophia back to a mosque, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday, on the eve of the celebration Greek Independence Day.
These comments just a week after the Turkish head of state declared that Agia Sophia would never become a church again during an angry rant in the wake of the New Zealand mosque shootings. Agia Sophia will not be turned into a church again “as long as there is a Turkish people and soul,” Erdoğan said.
“We could even name it the Agia Sophia Mosque instead of a museum so that everybody can visit it without charge,” he said during a live interview yesterday when asked whether the museum could be free of charge for Turkish citizens.
“As you know, the mosque was converted to a museum in 1935, as a reflection of the (Republican People’s Party) CHP mentality. We may as well take a step and change that,” he said, noting the stridently secularist policies of the CHP in the 1930s, reports Greek Reporter.
The president pointed to Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque as an example, where anyone can visit for free.
Although the former church is officially a non-denominational museum, Turkey has repeatedly allowed Islamic prayers to be read inside, angering the Greek and broader Orthodox community. In April, Erdoğan read out a prayer in Agia Sophia that he dedicated to “Istanbul’s conqueror”—Mehmed the Conqueror.
In 2017, the Turkish president announced that he would read prayers in Agia Sophia on Orthodox Holy Friday. Although in the end he did not read the prayers that day, the announcement could serve no purpose other than to anger Christians.
A Muslim cleric read from the Koran inside the Agia Sophia for the first time in 85 years in 2015, and the following year the Turkish government began airing religious readings during the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, and the call to prayer was read out and broadcasted on television to mark the supposed revelation of the Koran to the “Prophet” Mohammed.
The Greek Foreign Ministry called the reading on television last June “an unacceptable challenge to the religious sensibilities of all Christians.”
Islamic groups also periodically gather to read prayers outside Agia Sophia and call for its re-conversion to a mosque.
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