Istanbul, Hagia Sophia museum

Religious Christian icons of Hagia Sophia will be preserved

Government recalls that there are more than 400 churches and synagogues operating in Turkey, and that the decision to reopen Hagia Sophia as a mosque is supported by all parties, including the mayor of Istanbul.

The religious Christian icons of Hagia Sophia “will not be touched” and will be preserved so that they can be seen by people of any religion who wish to visit the building, a spokesman for the Turkish government insisted again over the weekend after the historic decree signed on Friday by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan for the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, following the ruling that he considers that turning it into a museum in 1934 was illegal.

In several interviews with television networks over the weekend, İbrahim Kalın, a spokesman for the Turkish president, referred to the controversy over the decision to reopen Hagia Sophia as a mosque -a function it held for almost five centuries after the fall of Constantinople in 1453– after 86 years operating as a museum.

Kalın stressed that the decision to make Hagia Sophia again a place of prayer for Muslims had received the support of all political parties in Turkey. “There is an overwhelming majority and consensus on this issue if you look at the political parties: the opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) … They have all supported this issue,” said the presidential spokesman.

“As for the arguments about secularism, or religious tolerance and coexistence (in Turkey), there are more than 400 churches and synagogues operating in Turkey today,” added Kalın, who categorically denied that the historical heritage representing Hagia Sophia will be “harmed or destroyed” by turning it into a mosque, and accused Europe of holding views on Turkey “based on past prejudice and senseless concerns.”

Anyone, regardless of religion, can visit Hagia Sophia

In another series of statements made through his official Twitter account, Kalın again assured that, as it is usual in all mosques in Turkey, anyone of any religion will be able to visit Hagia Sophia, including its Christian religious icons and mosaics. “Any statement that says otherwise is simply false,” Kalın said.

It is not yet clear how visitors can continue to admire mosaics and icons with images of the Virgin and Jesus or the Byzantine emperors, with the Islamic tradition contrary to the representation of the human figure, especially in mosques. The president of Diyanet (the highest religious authority for Muslims in Turkey), Ali Erbaş, hinted on Sunday that they could be covered during prayers.

Criticism of Turkish nationalists to the Nobel Orhan Pamuk

The chairman of the Turkish nationalist National Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, applauded the ruling by the State Council that made the conversion of Hagia Sophia in 1934 into a museum illegal, assuring that keeping it operating as a mosque is a “historical responsibility” in line with the legacy and trust that “ancestors of Turkey” had placed in future generations.

“A discussion that has been a cause of polarisation for 86 years has been resolved with a legal and political agreement,” said Bahçeli, who also had harsh criticism of Turkish Nobel Orhan Pamuk for his criticism of the decision to convert Hagia Sophia again in mosque. “It is an unsubstantiated whining of a person with the last name of ‘Cotton’ (Pamuk) who has his whole head full of things that bother him,” Bahçeli said, referring to the writer’s criticism.

Speaking to the British BBC, Pamuk -who regularly resides in New York- said that this decision will end the “pride” that many Turks feel of living in a secular country. “There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying over this decision, but their voices are not heard,” he said.

Istanbul Mayor supports Hagia Sophia to be reopened as a mosque

The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the opposition party CHP, was in statements to the pro-Kemalist Turkish newspaper Hürriyet in favor of the idea of ​​Hagia Sophia being a mosque again, ensuring that in his mind it had always been son since it was conquered by the Ottomans, and that the question now is to decide if turning it into a mosque is something that benefits the country or not.

“I have always said in my statements that Hagia Sophia is a mosque. For me, it has remained a mosque since 1453. Some television networks that consider themselves conservative have claimed things like that the (Muslim) call to prayer had been held for the first time in Hagia Sophia, or that the first prayer will be held on July 24 … However, prayers have been held five times a day in Hagia Sophia for the past 30 years,” he said.

According to İmamoğlu, it is not correct to ask whether the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is good or bad: “What we need to ask is what has changed in the last year when someone said that turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque could have consequences (for Turkey) and it would have a high cost,” stressed the mayor of Istanbul, referring to previous statements by Erdoğan in this regard made in early 2019.