Hagia Sophia was a message of secularism, says Orhan Pamuk

Turkey’s Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk said that the Hagia Sophia was a message of secularism when it was a museum.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle published on Friday, Pamuk said the decision to re-convert the site into a mosque was a populist message from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that showed his party no longer respected the secularism of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. 

“[They] want to say to the rest of the world that we are not very happy with the West. This is not a message that I like,” he said. 

The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under Atatürk’s presidency.

Islamists in Turkey have long clamoured for the site to be turned back into a mosque. On July 10, Erdoğan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after the Council of State - Turkey’s highest administrative court - ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum was illegal.

Erdoğan joined hundreds of worshippers on Friday in the Hagia Sophia and recited from the Quran just before the first communal Muslim prayers held in the Istanbul landmark in 86 years took place.

Pamuk said he was amazed that opposition parties were not objecting to the move. 

“They are not raising their voices because there is no free speech in Turkey to challenge this,” and because they were afraid of standing up for Atatürk’s decision, he said.

Pamuk said that while it was a popular decision to change the status of the site among many people in Turkey, and that the fate of the Hagia Sophia should be decided by Turkish people, there were many who opposed it. 

“As a citizen of the Republic of Turkey and like millions of secular citizens, I am against it. Unfortunately, our voice is not heard,” he said. 

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