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Historic Decision Annuls 1934 Presidential Decree Establishing Church as a Museum

07/10/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on July 10, Turkey’s Council of State ruled in favor of again converting the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque. The court’s decision annulled a presidential decree from 1934 which had transformed the Hagia Sophia into a museum.

Last month, Turkey’s President Erdoğan requested that his aides conduct an in-depth study on the process of converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This development corresponded with the 567th anniversary celebration of the Ottoman conquest, which was celebrated with an Islamic prayer at the Hagia Sophia. The cathedral was converted into a mosque following the conquest, and later into a museum with the creation of the modern Turkish State. Turkey is also facing significant domestic political pressure because of COVID-19 and its policies of military interventionism. It is common for the ruling AK Party to increase focus on the Hagia Sophia during times of political crisis.

“The recitation of Quran’s Al Fath surah at the Hagia Sophia has been very popular among the voters across the political parties,” said columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, who works for a pro-government media outlet.

The Hagia Sophia Cathedral is a Greek Orthodox Church, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been outspoken against the conversion. During a sermon this past Tuesday, the Patriarch warned that its conversion would cause a break between the East and West. “[It is] absurd and harmful that Hagia Sophia, from a place that now allows two people to meet us and admire its greatness, can again become a reason for contrast and confrontation… [It] is the symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

Prior to this decision, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew added, “The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world.”

Last November, the Council of State established a precedent for this latest decision by allowing for the conversion of the Chora Greek Orthodox Church into a mosque. According to Turkish law, once a building becomes a mosque, it becomes an immovable and cannot become something else.

Turkey is the only member of NATO recommended by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom for a special watch list. It is also considered likely that the Hagia Sophia’s change in status could trigger a heritage review by UNESCO, who had urged the authorities for dialogue on this matter before announcing a decision.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “This decision strikes at the battle for religious nationalism that President Erdogan has striven so hard toward. It comes at an extremely challenging time for Turkey, and the presidency has historically used the controversy surrounding the Hagia Sophia as a means of gaining votes. We are disappointed that such an important piece of Turkish history is being used in such a divisive way. Although the government promises that this decision will not impact Christians’ religious freedom, this is blatantly false. Christians in Turkey experience discrimination and persecution from all sides, and it is only worsening. This recent ruling is a signpost demonstrating just how far Turkey has transformed into an environment that is hostile toward its Christian history and the continued Christian presence.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1594391227988{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

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