Erdogan orders conversion of Hagia Sophia back into mosque

Move comes after Turkey's top administrative court annulled presidential decree that made the mosque into a museum.

Arutz Sheva North America Staff ,

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan on Friday ordered the conversion of the historic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque, CNN reports.

The move came shortly after Turkey's top administrative court annulled a 1934 presidential decree that made the mosque into a museum.

Erdogan issued a presidential decree transferring the management of the site from the Ministry of Culture to the Presidency of Religious Affairs, paving the way for its conversion. Erdogan has been a major proponent of the move.

The Hagia Sophia was the Roman Empire's first Christian cathedral and is among the best-known Byzantine structures in the world. It switched from a Greek Orthodox cathedral to a mosque in 1453, when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and renamed the city Istanbul.

The site then became a museum in 1935 as part of a decree by modern Turkey's secularist founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

İsmail Kandemir, head of the Association for the Service of the Historical Foundations and the Environment, said after the hearing that "using Hagia Sophia as a museum hurts conscience of people," according to Turkish news agency Anadolu.

The association filed a lawsuit to the Council of State in 2005 calling for the site to return to being a mosque, but it was rejected in 2008.

It filed another lawsuit in 2016 saying freedom of religion had been violated but the Supreme Court rejected the case in 2018, Anadolu reported.

Hours before the announcement, UNESCO called on Turkey to avoid changing the "outstanding universal value" of the site and requested "prior notification," signaling that it could change the Hagia Sophia's status on the World Heritage List.

Erdogan has expressed annoyance at international opposition to the plan, led by neighbor Greece.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday he condemned Erdogan’s decision “in the most intense manner.”

“This is a choice which offends all those who also recognize the monument as a world heritage site. And of course it does not only affect relations between Turkey and Greece, but its relations with the European Union,” Mitsotakis’ office said in a written statement quoted by Reuters.

The US State Department said it was “disappointed” by the government of Turkey’s decision.

“We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)