03/25/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Turkey has taken advantage of social restrictions enacted by the coronavirus to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer in the Hagia Sophia, a church once the center of orthodoxy. The church was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and then began operating as a museum shortly after the creation of the Turkish Republic.
Since 1931, the use of the museum as a space of worship has been prohibited. However, in recent years, the government has pushed back against this restriction. In July 2016, Muslim prayers were heard in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years. In both 2017 and 2018, programming related to the reading of the Quran and prayers were briefly held. Last year, President Erdogan pledged to change the status of the Hagia Sophia from museum back into mosque. The latest broadcast of Islamic prayer occurred as the Hagia Sophia was empty of tourists due to the impact of the coronavirus. The broadcast was made on IHA Broadcast Services.
It is worth noting that Turkey’s recent history shows a pattern of using emergency situations to reinforce the narrative that true Turks are Muslims and to make decisions which restrict the ability of non-Muslims to freely exercise their rights. Following the state of emergency post-coup, a number of directives were issued which disproportionately impacted the ability of religious minorities to freely practice their faith. In this latest case of the Hagia Sophia being used to broadcast Islam, it sends a message to local Christians that their historical churches are theirs no longer.
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