Syria to build Hagia Sophia replica in Hama with help from Moscow - report
Syria is set to construct a replica of Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia that will function as an Orthodox cathedral, according to the Lebanese news site Al-Modon.
A scaled-down version of the 6th century cathedral and former seat of the Orthodox Greek Church will be built in Syria’s western province of Hama with funding from Russia, it said.
The move follows a controversial decision by Turkey last month to open the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after Turkey’s highest administrative court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.
Originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under the presidency of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey’s reconversion of the site has been met with international condemnation.
Nabel Abdullah, the commander of the Syrian National Defence Forces militia, has donated the land for the church in the city of Suqaylabiyah, home to a sizeable Greek Orthodox population, Al-Modon said.
The Russian State Duma backs the project, it said, citing lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who told Russia's RIA Novosti that "Orthodox Christians in Russia can help Syria with construction (of the cathedral)."
Ankara and Moscow back opposing sides in Syria, with Russia throwing its weight behind the Bashar Assad government since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.