Erdoğan hints at Hagia Sophia reverting to mosque

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday said Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia, which was originally a church but has been a museum since 1935, may soon be reopened to Muslim worshipers.

"This is not unlikely," Erdoğan said during an interview with Turkish broadcaster TGRT, pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah reported. “We might even change its name to Hagia Sophia Mosque.”

Built as an Orthodox church in 537, when Constantinople was the seat of the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was one of the wonders of the Medieval world and is seen as the epitome of Byzantine architecture.

After Ottoman forces led by Sultan Mehmet conquered the city in 1453, it was converted into a mosque -- and remained so until 1935, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s vision for a secular Turkey led to its conversion to a museum, open to all.

In recent years, under the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, calls have increased for Hagia Sophia to again become a mosque. But last September, Turkey’s top court refused to open the ancient building for Muslim prayers, a few months after Erdoğan joined in an Islamic recitation there.

"This is not a strange proposal," Erdoğan said on Sunday, arguing that Hagia Sophia’s conversion to a museum reflected the mentality of Atatürk’s party, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which is running head-to-head against Erdoğan’s AKP in many cities in March 31 local elections.

“We may as well take a step and change that,” said the president.

In 2015, a cleric recited the Quran inside the building, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for the first time in 85 years.