News World Fifteen centuries, two faiths and a contested fate for Hagia Sophia

Fifteen centuries, two faiths and a contested fate for Hagia Sophia

A Turkish court on Friday annulled a 1934 government decree that had turned Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum, opening the way for the sixth-century building to be converted back into a mosque.

President Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party sprung from political Islam, has said the cavernous domed building should revert to being a place of Muslim worship.

Hagia Sophia is nearly 1,500 years old and served as one of the most exalted seats of Christian and then Muslim worship in the world, meaning that any change to its status will have a profound impact on followers of both faiths. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here are the key facts of Hagia Sophia‘s history, the campaign to change its status, and statements by religious and political leaders about its fate.

TWO FAITHS

Hagia Sophia, or ‘Divine Wisdom’ in Greek, was completed in 537 by Byzantine emperor Justinian.

The vast structure overlooked the Golden Horn harbour and entrance to the Bosphorus from the heart of Constantinople. It was the centre of Orthodox Christianity and remained the world’s largest church for centuries.

Hagia Sophia stayed under Byzantine control – except for a brief seizure by Crusaders in the 13th century – until the city was captured by Muslim forces of the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, who converted it into a mosque.

The Ottomans built four minarets, covered Hagia Sophia‘s Christian icons and luminous gold mosaics, and installed huge black panels embellished with the names of God, the prophet Mohammad and Muslim caliphs in Arabic calligraphy.

In 1934 Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, forging a secular republic out of the defeated Ottoman Empire, converted Hagia Sophia into a museum, now visited by millions of tourists every year.

A FORGERY?

A Turkish association committed to making Hagia Sophia a mosque again has pressed Turkish courts several times in the last 15 years to annul Ataturk’s decree.

In the latest campaign, it told Turkey’s top court that Ataturk’s government did not have the right to overrule the wishes of Sultan Mehmet – even suggesting that the president’s signature on the document was forged.

That argument was based on a discrepancy in Ataturk’s signature on the edict, passed around the same time that he assumed his surname, from his signature on subsequent documents.

Erdogan, who has championed Islam and religious observance during his 17-year rule, supported the Hagia Sophia campaign, saying Muslims should be able to pray there again and raised the issue – which is popular with many pious AKP-voting Turks – during local elections last year.

Turkish pollster Metropoll found that 44% of respondents believe Hagia Sophia was put on the agenda to divert voters’ attention from Turkey’s economic woes.

The pro-government Hurriyet newspaper reported last month that Erdogan had already ordered the status be changed, but that tourists should still be able to visit Hagia Sophia as a mosque and the issue would be handled sensitively.

REACTION

Outside Turkey, the prospect of change has raised alarm.

– Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, said altering the status of Hagia Sophia would fracture Eastern and Western worlds. Russia’s Orthodox church said turning it into a mosque was unacceptable.

– U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said any change would diminish its ability “to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures”.

– Neighbouring Greece, an overwhelmingly Orthodox country, said Turkey risked opening up a “huge emotional chasm” with Christian countries if it converts a building which was central to the Greek-speaking Byzantine empire and Orthodox church.

– Turkey has criticised what it says is foreign interference. “This is a matter of national sovereignty,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “What is important is what the Turkish people want.”

(Reuters)

Top Stories

The four possible scenarios for the new school year

The Ministry of Education is busy planning ahead in terms of digital technology and distance learning in case they need to implement it in...

Mitsero residents object to planned relocation of asphalt plants

Government plans to move the asphalt plants located in the industrial zones of Dali-Tseri to Mitsero area has sparked the anger of the community...

Bus in Nicosia rolls forward after driver jumped out, causes havoc (PHOTOS)

A bus on Diagorou Street in the heart of Nicosia on Thursday morning rolled forward after the driver had just jumped out. No one was...

National Guard left with just 20 military doctors

The National Guard is left with only 20 military doctors amidst concerns that all will quit if they are not allowed to privately practice...

New Cyprus-France defence pact came in effect on August 1

A defence cooperation agreement signed in April 2017 between Cyprus and France came into effect on August 1, an official press release said on...

Taste

Octopus ‘Kathisto’ (or Octopus braised in Wine)

Ingredients: 1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped fine 1 large octopus, about 2kg (cleaned and kept whole) 3/4 cup dry red wine 1/3 cup...

Homemade lemonade

Ingredients: 1 cup lemon juice 1 cup sugar Method: Thoroughly wash the lemons with soap and warm water. Roll each lemon with the palm of your hand, pressing...

‘Striftaria’ mini cheese pies

Ingredients 1 ½ cup milk 2 tbsps. flour 4 tsps. of butter 3 eggs, slightly beaten + 1 extra with 1 tbs. of milk for spreading 1 pack of...

Mini potato canapes baked on salt

Ingredients Serves: 12 1kg small Cypriot potatoes rock salt, as needed 250g salted butter 300ml full fat cremé frâiche 1 pot cod or salmon roe Method Prep:20min › Cook:35min › Ready in:55min Take...