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Erdogan now wants to convert a 6th century Unesco Heritage Site into a mosque

Erdogan now wants to convert a 6th century Unesco Heritage Site into a mosque

Trust Xi Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discover new, mostly controversial, ways to attract global attention.

United by their common goal of expansionism, the duo has gone into a nationalistic overdrive this year inviting the wrath of leaders from all corners of the world.

If Xi wants to grab everything between Ladakh and South China Sea—and foreign territories way beyond on both the sides—then Erdogan has already become a big headache for Europe and continues to muddy the Mediterranean Sea waters.

The Turkish President, working hard to fulfill his dream of reviving the Ottoman Empire, now wants to convert Hagia Sophia, a 1,500-year-old Unesco World Heritage site in Istanbul, into a mosque.

A unique architectural masterpiece of Byzantine era, Hagia Sophia was designed by Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletus in the sixth century (532-537).

A Greek Orthodox Christian Patriarchal Cathedral, it was turned into a mosque when the Byzantine Empire surrendered to Ottoman Turks in 1453. In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first President from 1923 until his death in 1938, turned it into a museum. It was later officially recognized by Unesco as a part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site.

<img class="wp-image-4466 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/28777e4917640bc6db8938d1255ddae3-scaled.jpg" alt="" width="2560" height="1705" /> A view of the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul (IANS)

But Erdogan, in a desparate bid to woo the Islamists of the country during an election rally last year, had said that he wants Hagia Sophia to be re-titled as a mosque.

The Council of State—Turkey's highest administrative body—said Thursday that it would make a ruling within 15 days, after a hearing lasting just 17 minutes.

"It is today one of the most contested religious buildings in the world. President Erdogan has repeatedly promised to convert the church back into a mosque, citing the belief that once a building becomes a mosque, it can never become anything else (also known as a public immovable). A member of the court had reportedly asked last month for the case’s dismissal, saying that it is a political decision not a judicial one. However, the same court last year heard a similar case regarding the Chora Greek Orthodox Church. This church has a similar history as the Hagia Sophia, and the court ruled that once it became a mosque, it became a public immovable," Pennsylvania-based International Christian Concern said Friday.

<img class="wp-image-4467 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/6a3540fd97e87c0878a26b274faa5911-scaled.jpg" alt="" width="2560" height="1751" /> Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, last month (Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua/IANS)

Reacting strongly, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Turkey against reverting the status of the Hagia Sophia.

"We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all. This extraordinary site is a testament to religious expression and to artistic and technical genius, reflected in its rich and complex 1,500-year history. Moreover, the site’s status as a museum has allowed people from all over the world to access and reflect upon this magnificent achievement. The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability—so rare in the modern world—to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures. We seek to continue to work with the Government of Turkey on a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including the preservation of religious and cultural sites," Pompeo said in a long, strongly-worded statement.

In 2006, Turkish police had stopped a mob of fanatics who wanted to hold prayers inside Hagia Sophia. Erdogan used it as a propaganda tool. Last Friday, he had announced that a group of Imams will recite Quran’s Al-Fath (conquest) surah at Hagia Sophia for the anniversary celebration of the Fall of Constantinople.

In an interview to a Greek newspaper Ta Nea published from Athens, Unesco Deputy director Ernesto Ottone Ramirez revealed that they had written to Turkey urging them not to change the status of the heritage site but haven't yet received any reply.

Meanwhile, Erdogan said "accusations against our country about Hagia Sophia directly target our sovereign rights" and he's determined to protect the rights of the majority faith..