Christians see Turkey's Hagia Sophia reconversion as Islamist expansionism - Catholic Register

Catholic and Christian leaders see Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque as part of Ankara’s neo-Ottoman expansionist and Islamist policy in the Middle East, Canadian weekly newspaper Catholic Register said on Tuesday.

The reconversion of the sixth century former seat of the Greek Orthodox Church is a "provocative act," it quoted Jesuit Father and noted Egyptian Catholic theologian and Islamic studies scholar, Samir Khalil Samir, as saying.

On July 10, Turkey’s top administrative court annulled a 1934 decree that turned the sixth-century Byzantine monument Hagia Sophia into a museum. Within hours, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a decree to re-convert the site into a mosque and the first Friday prayers were held there on July 24.

"Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken," Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, told The Washington Post regarding the move.

Turkey’s decision to convert the site turned into a museum by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as a gesture of good will to Orthodox Christianity 1934 has been met with international condemnation.

Greece has threatened sanctions against Turkey and the United States and other Western nations had previously urged Ankara to maintain the iconic structure as a museum.

Erdoğan is playing to his own populace, Father Ambrosio, a professor of theology and history of religions at Luxembourg School of Religion and Society, told Catholic Register.

"He is saying to Turkey and to the entire world that a part of the Kemalism culture or ideology (Ataturk's secularism) is definitely dead," Ambrosio said. "This decision shows the idea of pan-Ottomanism, or the New Ottomanism project begun by Erdogan and former Prime Minister (Ahmet) Davutoglu." 

Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party government have pursued a neo-Ottoman policy at a huge cost for Turkey’s economy in the Middle East, the Gulf region, and North Africa.

Turkey is entangling its military in Syria and sending Turkish and Syrian fighters to Libya and Yemen, in a bid to resurrect Ottoman Turkish dominance over Arab lands, Father Samir said.

"He would like to create a new caliphate," he added. "Erdogan is someone who pretends to be the greatest 'king' in the Middle East, while at the same time provoking a lot of Arabs and Muslims against him."

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, asks why the site could not allow for worship of both Muslims and Christians. 

"Couldn't this magnificent church reflect its 900 years of Christian and 500 years of Islamic history by letting Muslims and Christians pray inside it?" Sternberg said.