Turkey reeling with joy, anger over Erdoğan’s Hagia Sophia move

A group of Islamists took to the streets in Istanbul on Monday in celebration of the city’s iconic Hagia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque last week.

“God is Great, there is only one God,’’ the group chanted with raised index fingers, a sign adopted by the Islamic State, as they marched in the city’s famous Sultanahmet district.

Social media users called for the group’s arrest, after news site Gazete Manifesto posted the footage on their official Twitter account.

"We would have been clubbed by police if we got together to protest for our rights,’’ one Twitter user said, echoing the sentiments of many. ‘‘But somehow nobody is touching these pro-Sharia reactionaries.’’

The group represents a sizeable community that has long-called for the transformation of the sixth century Byzantine cathedral and former seat of the Orthodox Christian Church into a Muslim house of worship, that has become emboldened under the18 year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Some 350,000 people, including Turkey’s strongman, attended a televised ceremony on Friday, inaugurating the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a mosque, a move that has received international condemnation.

A sermon delivered by a sword-bearing head of Turkey’s top religious body during Friday’s ceremony has come under criticism from the country’s opposition and secular circles for insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who transformed the site into a museum as a gesture of good will to Orthodox Christianity 1934.

Thousands have called for the resignation of Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Erbaş over the infamous speech.

“Any property that is endowed is inviolable,’’ according to Islam, Erbaş said on Friday in reference to the site as he addressed the bright-eyed congregation. “And whoever infringes upon this principle is cursed.’’

On Monday, this segment of Erbaş’s speech was removed from the official site of the directorate, a day after Turkish prosecutors called for the religious authority to face legal action for his remarks.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s junior coalition partner and head of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has come to the defence of Erbaş.

Erbaş’s words were taken out of context, Duvar news site quoted Bahçeli as saying on Monday.

“Turkey has yet to witness anybody shameless and void of patriotism enough to curse Atatürk,’’ he said.

A number of social media outlets have highlighted VIP guests in Friday’s ceremony, which brought together different segments of the country, including Ottoman descendants, religious leaders and military top brass.

A total of 1,000 guests were accepted into the Hagia Sophia, as part of coronavirus pandemic measures, of which 500 were VIP.

The grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit II, Orhan Osmanoğlu, and his daughter Nihan Osmanoğlu received a special invitation for Friday’s affair, Birgün newspaper reported on Monday.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Yaşar Güler and a religious leader following the teachings of Kurdish Islamic scholar Said Nursi, Hüsnü Bayramoğlu, were also in attendance on Friday, journalist Batuhan Çolak said, sharing a photo of the unlikely pair from the ceremony on Twitter.