Agia Sophia can become a mosque by presidential decree, Supreme Court says in 20-minute session

Ankara, Turkey, July 2, 2020

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Following a session that lasted less than 20 minutes today, the Council of State of Turkey, the country’s highest administrative court, declared that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can change the status of Agia Sophia with just a presidential decree.

The Court met today to consider whether the 1934 decree of President Kemal Ataturk that turned Agia Sophia from a mosque into a museum was legally binding and whether it could be overturned.

Just as Ataturk changed the iconic building’s status with a legal decree, so can President Erdoğan, the Council reasoned, reports Romfea.

Such a decision was expected, analysts say. There have been reports that the conversion of the building, originally built as an Orthodox Christian cathedral in the 6th century, is already underway, and Turkish authorities were busy collecting 1,000s of signatures in support of its status change last week. It is expected that the first Islamic prayers under Agia Sophia’s new status will be read on July 15.

Erdoğan and other Turkish politicians have spoken of Agia Sophia as an enduring symbol of the Ottoman conquest over the Byzantine Empire and have continually rebuffed calls from international secular and religious institutions, saying Agia Sophia is Turkish property, so Turkey can do with it as it pleases.

Most recently, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was “astonished” by a press release from the U.S. Department of State calling on Turkey to maintain Agia Sophia’s status as a museum.

In his speech following the Divine Liturgy on June 30, Patriarch Bartholomew, who previously said he was “shaken and shocked” by Erdoğan’s plans for Agia Sophia, spoke of Agia Sophia as a bridge between the Christian and Islamic worlds.

“As museum, Agia Sophia can function as place and symbol of encounter, dialogue and peaceful coexistence of peoples and cultures, mutual understanding and solidarity between Christianity and Islam, which is extremely vital and beneficial for the contemporary world,” he stated.

“This unique monument obtained sacred value for both monotheistic religions, because it had served as a place of the worship of God for 900 years for the Christians and for 500 years for the Muslims,” he said, quoting his words from a 2016 letter on the fate of Agia Sophia.

“The conversion of Agia Sophia into a mosque will turn millions of Christians all over the world against Islam, and Agia Sophia, which, due to its sacredness, is a vital center where East is embraced with the West, will fracture these two worlds, more so at a time when the afflicted and suffered mankind, due to the deadly pandemic of the new coronavirus, is in need of unity and common orientation,” he concluded.

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Eugenia Christodoulou West7/8/2020 11:59 pm
The news saddens me that such a Holy place can be obliterated by one person who will surely hasten the feelings of all Christian Orthodox people against Islamic followers everywhere. Those that are here in Canada have the freedom to worship in there Islamic Centres without a hammer hanging over their heads from any violation of state This happening will breed hatred and racism against the Islamic nation.
Theodoros 7/4/2020 6:00 am
There is a wonderful book entitled Hagia Sophia Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium by Bissera V. Pentcheva (who is Russian Orthodox). In recent years there has been activity on the part of a group who measured sound and space in Hagia Sophia in an attempt to discover as closely as possible what the divine services sounded like in Hagia Sophia before the Turkish conquest. They released a CD and accompanying DVD called "Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia" which gives the listener an idea what the worshippers in Hagia Sophia heard back when the Great Church was actually a Church. I am of the opinion that such activities that emphasize the Christian theological and spiritual roots of Hagia Sophia are a good thing.
Theodoros 7/4/2020 5:48 am
Tempting as it might be to suggest that the Phanar is facing divine punishment for its actions in Ukraine, the reality regarding Hagia Sophia is more complicated than that. Certainly I am one hundred percent opposed to what Patriarch Bartholomew has done. I believe Patriarch Bartholomew must either repent or be deposed for his uncanonical actions. The Turkish government has converted several other Church-museums named Hagia Sophia in Trebizond, Nicea (Iznik) and Adrianople (Edirne). The Turkish plans for Hagia Sophia were in the works for years before Patriarch Bartholomews aggressive actions in Ukraine. We should remember that Hagia Sophia is named for Christ himself (Church of the Holy Wisdom of God) which makes the Turkish move even more blasphemous. The Turks may very well destroy the beautiful iconography. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev has expressed the Russian Church's opposition to the change of status in Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia remains hallowed ground despite its present secular status. It was built under the auspices of Saint Justinian the Great and was the Cathedral of so many Orthodox Patriarchs who served there. Its conversion into a Mosque is a blasphemous action undertaken by the Turkish government which remains rabidly anti Christian and as a source of jihadism.
Antiochene Son7/3/2020 6:08 pm
Perhaps this is a divine rebuke for the Ecumenical Patriarch's misadventures over the last few years.
Carolyn Ellis7/3/2020 6:20 am
1. It's not over. 2. I am believing God will somehow speak on this and make His will eminently clear.
emmanuel Pippos7/3/2020 3:19 am
I visited this cathedral/museum a few years ago as a pilgrimage to our religious inheritance. I was accosted by a Turkish security guard for kneeling in front of the Icon of Christ, The Judge. Will they conduct their Islamic prayers with the icon of Christ looking down upon them? Will they cover these icons entirely or permanently? Perhaps they will keep these icons in tact for specially organised ours only? Indeed the power to choose is sometimes fraught with more difficultly than it first appears.
Menas 7/2/2020 3:29 pm
This seems like a symbolic “nail in the coffin” of whatever prestige Patriarch Bartholomew had left. Istanbul will not be Constantinople again. With his dwindling flock of less than 2,000 people, it’s time to pass on the baton. I know people vote for Moscow, I have nothing against them, but, if authority needs to be passed to someone I vote Jerusalem as she is indeed the actual Mother Church
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