Ankara, Turkey, July 2, 2020
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.