Al Aqsa Next’: Turkey’s President Doubles Down on Hagia Sophia Decision

Muslims pray outside of the Hagia Sophia on July 10, 2020. (AP/Emrah Gurel)
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By Lauren Marcus (WIN)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brushed off international criticism about the decision to transform the iconic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque on Saturday, calling the matter an issue of Turkey exercising its “sovereign rights.”

Giving a speech at a virtual conference, Erdogan slammed world leaders who oppose the move, saying, “Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries … attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights.”

Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, the UNESCO World Heritage site was repurposed as a mosque in 1453 after the Ottomans seized control of Constantinople (Istanbul today). Hagia Sophia has been a museum, open to people of all faiths, since 1934.

Turkey’s high court recently overturned the 1934 decision turning Hagia Sophia into a museum, and Erdogan declared that Muslim prayers would resume at the site on July 24.

The announcement has drawn international criticism. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said to Interfax News Agency that he was disappointed by the decision.

“Yes, the cathedral is on Turkey’s territory, but it is without question everybody’s heritage,” he said.

“It is a blow to global Christianity … For us [Hagia Sophia] remains a cathedral dedicated to the Savior,” said Bishop Hilarion, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s public relations, to Russia’s Rossiya24 News channel.

In an open letter to Erdogan, the World Council of Churches (WOC) wrote of “grief and dismay” and pleaded with him to stop the move.

Dr. Ioan Sauca, the WOC’s acting secretary general, added, “Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, wonder, and inspiration for people from all nations.”

According to a transcript on the Turkish president’s official website, Erdogan linked Hagia Sophia becoming again a mosque to the “liberation of the Al-Aqsa mosque” in a Friday speech.

“The resurrection of Hagia Sophia ignites the fire of hope in Muslim hearts and the hearts of all those oppressed, wronged, downtrodden and exploited,” said Erdogan.

Al-Aqsa mosque is under Jordanian control, and before the coronavius pandemic, tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers visited the mosque annually.

The mosque was built on top of Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. Jews are forbidden from praying near Al-Aqsa. Jews may visit the Mount, but under restrictions with visits pre-arranged and guests accompanied by Israeli security forces.( World Israel News)

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