Istanbul (dpa) - For the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a "dream from his youth" comes true, as he says: The Istanbul landmark Hagia Sophia - once a church, then a mosque under the Ottomans and secularized by the founder of the republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1934 and turned into a museum - will be used again as a mosque from Friday.
The Supreme Administrative Court in Turkey had deprived Hagia Sophia of museum status on July 10. Erdogan then ordered the building to be opened as a mosque for Islamic prayer.
The decision is highly controversial. While Erdogan speaks of a "resurrection" and an "error" that will be corrected, church representatives as well as Russia and Greece criticize the decision sharply. The Orthodox Church plays an important role in the countries.
ERDOGAN, FATIH AND ATATÜRK
If Erdogan has a favorite sultan, it is certainly Mehmet II, called Fatih - the conqueror. It was he who transformed Hagia Sophia from a church into a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople (today: Istanbul) in 1453. The conquest marked the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire as a great power. The transformation of Hagia Sophia was the symbol of this victory.
The Turkish president has been trying to build on the strength of the Ottoman Empire for years. Some Twitter users referred to Erdogan as the second Fatih after he announced the opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque. The decision is well received by some supporters and is considered overdue in view of the majority Muslim population.
On the other hand, critics have long accused Erdogan of Islamizing the country and undermining the constitutional secularism - that is, the separation between religion and state. Columnist Merdan Yanardag sees the conversion of Hagia Sophia as Erdogan's settlement with Ataturk and his idea of a secular republic. "It is an attack on the founding ideas of the republic and the progressive values that emanate from it," he writes in the government-critical newspaper "Birgün".
ECONOMY AND ELECTIONS
Opposition and observers accuse Erdogan of wanting to divert economic problems by turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque. According to the polling institute Metropoll, 44 percent of the population see it that way.
A transformation of Hagia Sophia has been on the agenda for years and Erdogan had often raised the issue before elections. As a rule, the President could benefit from the rapprochement with the religious clientele and polarization. The reassignment has therefore also reinforced a debate in Turkey about early elections, which will not be scheduled until 2023.
THE HAGIA SOPHIA, JUSTINIAN AND THE ORTHODOXY
Even the establishment of Hagia Sophia was a “demonstration of power” by Emperor Justinian, as Justinian expert and professor of ancient history at the University of Tübingen, Mischa Meier, describes. The emperor had the church built after the Nika uprising of 532, which he used to eliminate the opposition, including many senators, he says. With the confiscated assets of the senators, he financed Hagia Sophia. "This demonstration of power was aimed at the traditional Roman elite, who Justinian largely despised for rising from very small proportions."
For almost a millennium, Hagia Sophia was the largest church in Christianity. It was the main church of the Byzantine Empire. The emperors were crowned there from the 7th century. Like St. Peter's Basilica for Catholics, Hagia Sophia is an important symbol for all Orthodox Christians in the world, says Metropolitan Ilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate.
CULTURAL MONUMENT AND TOURIST ATTRACTION
Tourists can easily visit Hagia Sophia outside of prayer times, the Turkish government assures. Entry is now free. The famous mosaics are only hung during prayer. The floor will be covered with a prayer rug that Erdogan inspected on site.
Unesco has not been informed of the changes, says the organization's media director, Matthieu Guevel. He stressed that Turkey had to discuss any changes with Unesco. It was "unfortunate" anyway that Turkey had made the decision to convert Hagia Sophia without consulting Unesco. Since 1985, Hagia Sophia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of Istanbul's old town.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200723-99-897230 / 3
Turkish Constitution in English (Source: Turkish National Assembly)
Report on the construction of the mosque on Taksim Square (Turkish)
Hasan Cemal on T24 to Hagia Sophia (Turkish)
"Birgün" commentary on Hagia Sophia
Analyst Rusen Cakir on Hagia Sophia
Erdogan's speech on July 10 on Hagia Sophia (Turkish)
Signing protocol between the Ministry of Tourism and the Religious Authority
Prof. Dr. Mischa Meier, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Tübingen