Will The Hagia Sophia Become A Mosque?
The Turkish daily Hürriyet reports on concerns that Turkey’s Islamist government will reverse over 75 years of official secularist policy, and turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Excerpt:
The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate released a statement criticizing the possible reconversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul into a mosque.
The statement said that there was a possibility of the “church-turned-mosque-turned-museum” in Istanbul being reconverted into a mosque, as two previous cases of Hagia Sophia churches that were recently in İznik and Trabzon.
“There are now indications that certain factions are endeavoring to cultivate in popular opinion the notion that Haghia Sophia of Istanbul, the symbol of Christian faith, should be turned into a mosque,” said the statement released by the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle that was written by Nikolaos Manginas.
The statement recalled that a Turkish citizen had submitted an application a few months ago to the National Assembly for the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate also criticized an article published in the official magazine of Turkish Airlines, Skylife, in August 2013, which was titled, “Hagia Sophia: The Sultans’ Mosque,” and which mentioned the return of the museum into its former “spiritual aura,” referring to its days of serving as a mosque.
This is extremely worrying. To be sure, the Hagia Sophia, the most glorious Christian house of worship in the world (with the possible exception of the Chartres cathedral) was a mosque since the Islamic conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In 1935, the Kemalist government turned it into a museum. I visited the basilica seven years ago; there are clear signs that it was once a church, and clear signs that it was once a mosque. But now it is neutral territory — and it should stay that way. If the Turkish government reclaims that building for Islam, it will be a terrible slap in the face to the Christian world — and for what? I think they should return the building to the Greek Orthodox, who built it, but I recognize that that is no more likely to happen than the Cathedral of Cordoba will be returned to the Muslims, who built it as a mosque. Sometimes, you just have to let these things go.
But the Hagia Sophia has spent most of the last century as a museum — as neutral ground between the religions. Why change that now? For the sake of the Erdogan government’s Islamist triumphalism? To further erase any history of Christian presence in the former Constantinople, or in Turkey? To humiliate the tiny remaining Greek Christian population?
UPDATE: On this night in 1955, the nine-hour anti-Greek pogrom began in Istanbul. It was organized by the Turkish government, and resulted in the mass destruction of Greek homes and businesses, and the desecration of Greek churches. It facilitated mass Greek migration from the city where there ancestors had lived and worshipped for a millennia before the Turkish conquest. Just so you know.