Museum or mosque? Turkey debates future of iconic Hagia Sophia

Museum or mosque? Turkey debates future of iconic Hagia Sophia

ISTANBUL, Turkey — In its more than 1,400-year existence, the majestic domed structure of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has served as the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral, a mosque under the Ottoman Empire and a museum in modern Turkey, attracting millions of tourists each year.

Museum or Mosque, the debate continues.

The 6th century building is now at the center of a heated debate between nationalist, conservative and religious groups who are pressing for it to be reconverted back into a mosque and those who believe the UNESCO World Heritage site should remain a museum, underscoring Istanbul’s status as a bridge between continents and cultures.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Council of State began considering a request by a group that wants Hagia Sophia to revert to being a mosque and that argues the historic structure was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul. A state attorney urged the council, which is Turkey’s highest administrative court, to reject that request, state-run media reported.

A decision is expected within two weeks.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads an Islamic-oriented party, has previously spoken about possibly changing Hagia Sophia’s status to a mosque but has said his government would await the Council of State’s decision.

Analysts believe that Erdogan — a populist, polarizing leader who in nearly two decades in office has frequently blamed Turkey’s secular elites for the country’s problems — is using the debate to consolidate his conservative base and to distract attention from Turkey’s substantial economic woes.

The world will know if it is Museum or Mosque.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login