Hagia Sophia reconversion damages equal citizenship in Turkey - analyst

Turkey's conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a mosque has taken a toll on the concept of equal citizenship in the country, according to Aykan Erdemir, a former deputy in the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey programme at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia a mosque on June 10, after a top court annulled the 6th-century historical site’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The president’s decree constituted a major step for his party in fulfilling a long-standing demand by its core Islamist voter base.

"One of the biggest impacts of Erdoğan’s conversion of Hagia Sophia and deployment of the trope of conquest will be to turn back the clock of secularism and equal citizenship in the very country where this ideal started most forcefully in the Muslim world," Erdemir said on Sunday in an article he penned in the National Interest.

"This will set a dangerous precedent, emboldening supremacists not only in Turkey but also in the Middle East and North Africa," he said.

Religious minorities and a majority of pro-secular Muslims in Turkey have been feeling subordinated with Erdoğan's increasingly Islamist policies, the analyst said. 

"The simple act of supporting Atatürk’s Hagia Sophia decision and opposing Erdoğan’s conversion suffices to demote a citizen to the status of a subject that needs disciplining if not punishment."

The pro-government media continues to disseminate messages praising the Turkish government's successful interfaith relations. However, these efforts cannot undo "the lasting damage the Erdoğan government’s Hagia Sophia policy and rhetoric have done to the idea of equal citizenship in Turkey and elsewhere in majority Muslim countries", Erdemir said.