Hagia Sophia remains a political football in Turkey

Turkish Islamist demands for the Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to be turned into a mosque came have risen once again, the Irish Times said.

The giant 6th century cathedral was made into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, but was converted into a museum in the 1930s under the secular republic.

“Donald Trump’s recognising of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has reignited the issue, with Şamil Tayyar, an AK Party deputy, declaring that the move should be countered by putting the Hagia Sophia to use for Muslims,” the newspaper said.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gradually overturned many of the country’s secular standards since it came to power in 2002 with a conservative Islamist agenda.

The fate of the former cathedral has much more resonance in Eastern Orthodox countries than in the United States, however, and if it is turned back into a mosque this may create a popular reaction in countries such as Russia and Greece.

“Those elements were boosted when a state-sanctioned prayer ceremony was held within the Hagia Sophia’s walls during the month of Ramadan last summer,” the newspaper said. “In attendance was the director of the powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs, the government’s religious wing, while millions of Turks watched the highly choreographed service live on a state-owned television channel.”

The use of other religions’ holy sites as symbols of power is not limited to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.

“Since coming to power, the AK Party has overseen the reconverting of a number of Christian sites around Turkey. In the Black Sea city of Trabzon, an 800-year-old church replete with stunning frescos that is also named Hagia Sophia reopened as a mosque in 2013,” the newspaper said.

On the other hand, however, the party also oversaw the restoration of the partially ruined Grand Synagogue of Edirne in 2015.


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