Turkish media welcomes Hagia Sophia conversion

As the international community expressed concern over Friday’s court order by Turkey’s Council of State annulling the museum status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, the Turkish media has welcomed the conversion of the Byzantine cathedral back into a mosque.

Pro-government flagship Sabah’s Saturday headline read, “Longing for Hagia Sophia over,” and “Resurrection.”


Sabah front page
The front page of Sabah on July 11, 2020. Source: ​​​​​http://haber7.com/gazete-mansetleri/


Sabah quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying, “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia heralds the liberation of Masjid al-Aqsa, the footsteps of Muslims leaving the Age of Interregnum,” a quote that was not present in promotional material in English but cited in the Arabic versions, as journalist Jenan Moussa spotted.

The English text instead emphasised the doors of Istanbul’s iconic structure would remain open to people of all faiths.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, is a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Erdoğan’s statement essentially meant "Israel should be ejected from controlling Jerusalem’s Old City where Al-Aqsa is located,” the Jerusalem Post’s Middle East analyst Seth J. Frantzman wrote on Saturday.

"Linking the major change at Hagia Sophia to Jerusalem illustrates that Ankara’s ambitions are far larger than just reasserting Islamic prayers at the historic mosque and church in Istanbul; it is part of a larger Islamic agenda for the region,’’ Frantzman said.

“The chains have been broken, Alhamdulillah,” read Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit’s headline on Saturday.

Akit front page
The front page of Yeni Akit on July 11, 2020. Source: http://haber7.com/gazete-mansetleri/


“The conversion of the mosque into museum was a robbery,” Yeni Akit columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak wrote. “The Ministry of Culture was a trespasser there.” Dilipak questioned the legality of the 1934 decree to turn it into a museum.

Doğru Haber, a newspaper that favours the Turkish Hezbollah, followed suit with “Chains have been broken, Ayasofya Mosque now free,” while the pro-government Milat ran with, “Alhamdulillah.”

The conservative Diriliş Postası ran a similar headline, and an article preview on the front page that mentioned the Crusades read, “The Greek political mind wants to use the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque as an attack by Turks against all Christians.”

Columnist Rahim Er in his column for the Türkiye newspaper, echoing the sentiment, called the conversion "the salvation of Muslim Turks' Hagia Sophia from crusader tyranny."

Akşam, owned by a close friend of Erdoğan, said all should respect the decision, that Hagia Sophia was back to its true self, and ran the headline, “Good Friday.”


Akşam front page
The front page of Akşam on July 11, 2020. Source: http://haber7.com/gazete-mansetleri/


Pro-government Demirören Media newspapers Milliyet and Hürriyet chose a more subdued tone, running the headlines, “Open for worship,” and “Hagia Sophia opens,” respectively.

Hürriyet columnist Abdülkadir Selvi ran an interview with ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Parliament chair Mustafa Şentop, who expressed excitement and pride in the conversion. “This noble mosque that our ancestors called the Grand Mosque had never truly closed in our hearts,” Şentop told Selvi.

“There is no revenge or settling of scores to speak of here. This is acting appropriately with the last will of the ancestors who won Istanbul and gifted it,” wrote Sabah columnist Okan Müderrisoğlu.

HaberTürk’s Nagehan Alçı, a staunch supporter of President Erdoğan, wrote about the Greek Orthodox seminary in Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, asking, “Wouldn't (Turkey's) Greeks rejoice if the Halki Seminary would open again after being closed for years?”

“Of Course they would,” Alçı concluded. “All Greeks around the world would celebrate. I believe the Hagia Sophia matter needs a similar approach.”

Alçı’s colleague Murat Bardakçı was concise: “We had closed it, we opened it,” his headline in the HaberTürk article read.

Nationalist centre-left-leaning opposition newspaper Sözcü did not run the story on its headline, instead chosing a smaller print of, “Museum decree annulled – Hagia Sophia open for worship via court order,” below a headline story about an opposition mayor.

The biggest opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet, ran a smaller story with the dry headline, "Hagia Sophia a mosque now," that said "the museum's status was made into political fodder," and condemned that the celebrations focused on opposition to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular leader and founder of the modern Republic of Turkey.

Instead, on Cumhuriyet’s front page was a story about the rising inflation and an official attempt to cover it up, and another showing the funeral of a soldier who was killed in last week’s fireworks factory explosions.


Cumhuriyet front page
The front page of Cumhuriyet on July 11, 2020. Source: http://haber7.com/gazete-mansetleri/


Meanwhile, left-wing opposition newspapers BirGün and Evrensel ran small stories, focusing on the opposition to Atatürk and the Turkish government using the mosque as a way out of the political quagmire, respectively. Both newspapers focused on the newly-passed law that radically restructures how lawyers organise and operate instead.