Erdoğan makes Islamist dream a reality with Hagia Sophia, Turkish columnist says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has realised the long-running dream of Islamists by reconverting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, undoing efforts by Turkey’s modern founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, toward secularism, wrote political analyst and writer Selim Koru.

For Erdoğan and his ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), Atatürk’s secular republican government was a foreign imposition on the country, Koru wrote in the New York Times, and the museum status of the Hagia Sophia a seal on Turkey’s spirit.

On Friday, Erdoğan ordered the conversion of the city's historic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after a court annulled a 1934 presidential decree that made it a museum.

The move to reconvert the structure - built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in the 6th century before becoming a mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul - has been met with international condemnation. Critics accuse Erdoğan of using the iconic structure as a political tool to appease a long-standing demand by Islamists.

Koru pointed to Islamist and pan-Turkic romanticists which have campaigned for the reopening of the iconic structure as a mosque, listing prominent Islamist poet Necip Fazıl Kısakürek and writer Nihal Atsiz, an advocate of a pan-Turkic identity.

Over his 18 years in power Erdoğan has gradually dismissed all checks and balances, Koru said, and Islamists held hope that the “opening the Hagia Sophia for prayers would mark the maturation of Islamist power and cement its gains.’’

Turkey’s two -year state of emergency rule, imposed in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, saw the passing of laws without parliamentary approval, long detentions, arbitrary authority of governors, and civil servant dismissals, among others.

Moreover, Turkey’s executive presidential system, which was ushered in with the June 2018 elections, has effectively eliminated the prime minister's post while transferring executive powers to the president, who rules with only limited checks and balances.

The first prayer at the Hagia Sophia mosque scheduled to take place on July 24 should be closely followed by the Western world, Koru wrote, especially to watch closely, as it will represent what Erdoğan considers “ the reclamation of Turkish sovereignty from its clutches.’’