Istanbul, June 5, 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed his aides to conduct a comprehensive study of the possibility of converting the status of the famous Agia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum back into a mosque, the Turkish paper Hurriyet reported today.
“Do the research, then we will all assess and talk about it. Tourists will still be able to visit Agia Sophia if it becomes a mosque, as happens with the Blue Mosque on Sultanahmet Square,” the President said at a meeting of the Central Executive Board of the ruling Justice and Development Party, which is chaired by Erdogan himself.
The head of state asked his aides to take their time and study the issue well, reminding that Agia Sophia belongs to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation and is a symbol of the conquest of Istanbul.
Agia Sophia, originally built as a great Orthodox cathedral in the 6th century by St. Justinian the Great when Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, remains a point of tension between Turkey and Greece.
It was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453. In 1931, the building was secularized, and in 1935 it opened as a museum.
Erdogan has often used readings from the Koran in Agia Sophia and declarations of his intent to make it a mosque once again to inflame tensions with Greece and the Orthodox world, most recently over this past weekend when the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople was festively celebrated at Agia Sophia, with the reading of the 48th chapter of the Koran.
A presentation on the conquest of the city was also staged on a platform outside the Agia Sophia.
The Greek government objected to such festivities, calling them an offense to the global Christian community and a violation of Agia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO Heritage site, though Turkish officials fired back that Agia Sophia has nothing to do with Greece, while Turkey can do whatever it wants with its own territory.
“The fact that Greece, the only remaining European country without a mosque in its capital, is disturbed by the recital of the Holy Koran in Agia Sophia is a case in point illustrating the intolerant psychology of this country,” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy.
Sources also said that praise from other parties for reciting prayers in Agia Sophia also came up during the Central Executive Board meeting.