Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul

Armenian Christians in Turkey support the religious use of Hagia Sophia

Sahak Maşalyan, head of Turkey’s Armenian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian minority, supports Hagia Sophia being once again a place of worship where Christians and Muslims can pray.

The Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Turkey, Sahak Maşalyan (Sahak II), wanted to take part in the debate on whether the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul should continue to be a museum or recover its religious use, supporting that this ancient Byzantine basilica that until 1934 it was for five centuries a mosque, become again a place for prayer.

Hagia Sophia should be open to worship,” Maşalyan declared in a series of tweets published on his official Twitter account on Saturday, supporting the government’s proposal to convert it into mosque again, but asking for a space be reserved for Christians. Precisely the Armenian Orthodox community is the largest Christian minority in Turkey, where it is estimated to be around 100,000 members.

“Hagia Sophia is big enough to reserve a space for Christians. Let the world contemplate our religious peace and our maturity. May Hagia Sophia become a symbol of peace and humanity in our era,” said the head of the Armenian Church in Turkey, suggesting sharing the building between both religions. “Even though our beliefs are different, do we not believe in the same God?” he asked.

“It was built to be a place of prayer, not just a museum”

To justify his support for the idea that Hagia Sophia cease to be a museum, the 85th Patriarch of the Orthodox Armenians of Turkey recalled that its construction in the 6th century had an astronomical cost and that 10,000 workers had participated in it. “It has undergone numerous renovations, and all those efforts were made to maintain it as a place of prayer, not to make it a simple museum,” Maşalyan insisted.

In his opinion, the most appropriate use for Hagia Sophia would be that it is again a place where believers could kneel down to pray impressed by its magnificent architecture, and not a simple tourist monument full of visitors walking around. “I think (the image of) praying believers fits better with the spirit of the temple, rather than that of curious tourists wandering around to take pictures,” concluded the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Turkey.

Over the past 10 years, various organizations in Turkey have called for Hagia Sophia to be a mosque again, and the debate has escalated in recent years, especially following celebrations for the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. The Turkish government is now waiting for the State Council to rule on July 2 on whether the 1934 decree that made it a museum can be annulled, to decide on the future of Hagia Sophia.