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World: Turkey: towards a transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan authorizes prayers

Museum or mosque? Turkey decides on the future of Hagia Sophia

 Museum or mosque? Turkey decides on the future of Hagia Sophia © Ozan KOSE Aerial view of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on June 28, 2020 The highest court in Turkey decides on Thursday on the conversion of the former basilica into a mosque Hagia Sophia, a decision that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for at the risk of creating tension with several countries.

L'ex-basilique Sainte-Sophie à Istanbul, le 28 juin 2020 © Ozan KOSE The ex-Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, June 28, 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the opening on Friday from the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Muslim prayers after a court paved the way for its transformation into a mosque by canceling its current status as a museum.

The Council of State, the highest administrative court in Turkey, acceded to the request of several associations on Friday by revoking a government decision dating from 1934 granting Hagia Sophia the status of museum.

"The Court decides to revoke the decision of the Council of Ministers which is the subject of this request," the court announced in its contested statements.

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A major architectural work built in the 6th century by the Byzantines who crowned their emperors there, Hagia Sophia is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and one of the main tourist attractions in Istanbul with some 3.8 million visitors in 2019.

L'ex-basilique Sainte-Sophie à Istanbul, le 10 juillet 2020 © Ozan KOSE The former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, July 10, 2020

Converted into a mosque after the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, it was transformed into a museum in 1934 by the leader of the young Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, anxious to "offer it to humanity".

However, its status is regularly the subject of controversy: since 2005, associations have repeatedly taken legal action to claim a return to mosque status.

The Court explained that in the deeds of property in the name of the Mehmet Fatih Foundation, named after the Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, Hagia Sophia was listed as a mosque and that this qualification could not be changed.

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"It has been decided that the Hagia Sophia mosque will be placed under the administration of Diyanet (the Authority for Religious Affairs) and will be reopened to prayers," announced Erdogan shortly after in a decree, in which he designated the monument as a "mosque". It was unclear whether this decree would come into effect immediately.

Mr. Erdogan must address the nation shortly before 6:00 p.m. GMT.

- "The chains have been broken" -

Several countries, notably Russia and Greece, which closely follow the fate of Byzantine heritage in Turkey, as well as the United States and France, have in particular warned Ankara against the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a Muslim place of worship, a measure for which the Islamic-conservative president Erdogan has been campaigning for years.

Shortly before the announcement of the decision, Unesco said it was "concerned" about the fate of the former basilica and called on Turkey to dialogue before any measure likely to "undermine" the "universal value "of this monument.

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  Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday: officials Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday: officialsANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court is likely to announce on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, two Turkish officials said, paving the way for its restoration as a mosque despite international concerns.

Mr. Erdogan, a nostalgic for the Ottoman Empire who is today seeking to rally the conservative electorate against the background of the economic crisis due to the pandemic of new coronavirus and a difficult regional context, has several times expressed himself in favor of a conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Last year, he called his transformation into a museum "a very big mistake".

"Hagia Sophia is probably the most visible symbol of the Ottoman past of Turkey and Erdogan is instrumental in galvanizing its base and measuring its rivals at home and abroad", dissects Anthony Skinner, from the consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.

Since the arrival of Mr. Erdogan in power in 2003, activities related to Islam have multiplied inside Hagia Sophia, with in particular sessions to read the Koran or collective prayers on the square in front of the monument .

"I am very moved. The fact that Hagia Sophia loses its museum status and becomes a mosque again fills all Muslims," ​​Mucayit Celik, a Stambouliote, met in front of the monument, told AFP.

"This is a decision that I have been waiting for years. It is a shame that it has not happened before, that is why I am very happy," added Umut Cagri, another resident of Istanbul.

A few hundred people gathered in front of the former basilica, where a reinforced police device was deployed, waving Turkish flags and chanting "the chains were broken" to celebrate the decision of the Council of State.

Even if a reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque should not prevent tourists of all faiths from going there - many of them visit the nearby Blue Mosque every day - changing the status of a place too emblematic in the history of Christianity could cause tensions.

The Russian Orthodox Church thus regretted that the "concern" of "millions of Christians" had not been heard by the Turkish court.

Greece, through the voice of the Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, described the decision of the Turkish court as "provocation towards the civilized world".

fo-ezz / sg

Turkey: Erdogan on a symbolic visit to Hagia Sophia, after his controversial reconversion .
© Turkish Presidential Press Office, AFP Turkish President Erdogan, accompanied by the Minister of Culture and Tourism (right), leaves the former Hagia Sophia, Sunday July 19, 2020. The Turkish president paid a symbolic visit to the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on Sunday. This visit is the first since the controversial conversion of this building into a mosque last week.

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