Turkish court reverses 1934 decree, converts Hagia Sophia into mosque

by Maruf Adedeji

A Turkish court has annulled 1934 government decree turning Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum.

The court annulment on Friday, 10 July, 2020, paved way for the Hagia Sophia building’s conversion back into a mosque despite international concerns against such a move.

Previously, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan had signed a decree converting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul into a mosque.

Mr Erdogan signed a decree confirming the decision on Friday, 10 July, 2020.

Hagia Sophia, an iconic cultural site, has been a focal point of both Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

Founded 1,500 years ago as a cathedral, the Ottomans made Hagia Sophia a mosque. But in 1934 it became a museum.

The US, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge 6th century building, converted into a museum in the early days of modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The court ruling by the council of state said that “it was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally”.

“The cabinet decision decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” the ruling from Turkey’s top administrative court said.

The Russian orthodox church immediately expressed regret that the Turkish court did not take its concerns into account when reading on a Hagia Sophia, according to a news report.

The association which brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia was the property of the Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and then turned the already 900-year old Byzantine church into a mosque.

The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added huge calligraphic panels bearing the Arabic names of the early Muslim caliphs alongside the monument’s ancient Christian iconography.

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