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Ancient Hagia Sophia turned into a Mosque

BY: Kieran Stoyka Kay

What may seem like a simple site transformation has brought about a new geopolitical crisis with majorly religious ramifications during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversion of the Hagia Sophia, first built by Emperor Justinian I in 537 as a church, to a present-day mosque has caused international backlash from many western, non-Muslim majority countries. In Greece, Italy, the US, Russia, and by organizations like the UNESCO world heritage agency this move is being seen as political, and many are saying it is the wrong decision to change the site from a museum, which has been in place since 1934, to a mosque. Many are viewing this change as a political move by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to please his Islam nationalist backers and majority within the country, and some are even saying he sees himself as leading the charge for Muslims within the region.

When we look at the specifics of his decree and court overruling of the previous law instated by Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk we can see that his intentions are quite drastic and done without much forethought or council. When Islam services are to take place in the now mosque the Christian symbols will be covered with lasers or coverings, however, admittance to visitors of the site will now be free and after services and prayers, these coverings will be lifted. People like Pope Francis have expressed their discontent with the move as well as US secretary of state Mike Pompeo who sums up the disapproval of many onlookers quite eloquently in noting that Erdogan’s decisions would diminish the Hagia Sophia’s capability "to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures." Not only has UNESCO said that it would begin an independent review of Erdogan’s decision but within international law “Countries must notify the UN's cultural body of any changes in the status of a site, triggering a review by its heritage committee.”

The main response from the ruling party in Turkey has been that this was a decision made by the Turkish people and government alone and that no other international group or country has any say in the decision which would interfere with Turkey’s sovereignty. This historic site has been the destination of many ideological and religious conflicts between the Christian and Muslim worlds for centuries and Erdogan has taken a dangerous step in the history of the now mosque which will have him face much more international criticism, yet boosting his political image at home. So, as the future of the site remains a mystery in the international spectrum, for the time being, in Turkey Erdogan’s decision has been solidified by the courts and support of his people.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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