Icon of Dispute

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected
international condemnation of converting Turkey’s landmark
Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, saying the move
represented his country’s will to use its “sovereign rights”.

By Syed Zubair Ahmed | September 2020

President Erdogan on July 10, 2020, made a historic decision and formally opened the Hagia Sophia as a mosque on Friday, July 24, 2020. This was a reversion of the Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque. Erdogan's action came after a court ruling though the internatonal media and some governments made a negative outcry over the decision.

International quarters described the event as hugely controversial and, as expected, criticism from the Orthodox Churches of Greece and Russia, and from the US Secretary of State urged Turkey to maintain Hagia Sophia’s museum status based on the argument that place was a bridge between cultures and religions.

UNESCO has also warned Turkey about conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque because, according to the UN body, the action could violate the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

The critics have started a reprehensible attempt to equate the incident with other disputed religious sites in different parts of the world such as the Babri Mosque in India and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They emphasize that if a church is converted into a mosque, it justifies the conversion of mosques into temples and synagogue. The assertion is nothing more than a camouflage of the truth that misleads by hiding the facts and promoting a one-sided version of history. Actually, the historical perspective of the reversion of the Hagia Sophia museum to its original status as a mosque needs an unbiased analysis.

The dome of Hagia Sofia has withstood the vicissitude of time; the building was built in the 6th century as a cathedral and stood as the world’s largest example of Byzantine Christian architecture built almost a millennium ago. It remained intact for about 921 years as a church until 1453. When Sultan Mehmet II came to the Ottoman throne, he reinforced the Ottoman navy, strengthened the military and ordered preparations for the siege of Constantinople. After he conquered Constantinople, the bastion of Christendom (present-day Istanbul), he was only 21 and he ended the Byzantine Empire.

Historians claim that soon after the fall of the city in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II converted the church Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This claim is not substantiated with any documentary proof or circumstantial evidence. However, in 1934, the mosque was turned into a museum byMustafa Kemal Ataturk who founded the modern Turkish Republic, a country that emerged as a secular state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

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This freelance writer follows national and international issues of public interest. He can be reached at syedzubairahmed

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