Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed a decree converting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – founded as a cathedral – into a mosque.
Founded 1,500 years-ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, centuries later the Ottomans made Hagia Sophia a mosque.
Islamists in Turkey have long called for it to be converted to a mosque, but secular opposition members have opposed the move. The proposal has prompted criticism from religious and political leaders worldwide
Shortly after the move, the first call to prayer was recited at the Hagia Sophia and was broadcast on all of Turkey’s main news channels. The cultural site’s social media channels have now been taken down.
The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has condemned the proposal, as has Greece – home to many millions of Orthodox followers.
« The nationalism displayed by President Erdogan… takes his country back six centuries, » Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.
The court ruling « absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice » in Turkey, she added.
But the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said in its ruling on Friday: « 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 in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws, » it said.
The Russian Orthodox Church immediately expressed regret that the Turkish court did not take its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia, Tass news agency reported.
But Turkey hit back at claims that the move would exclude people of other faiths.
« Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship doesn’t keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site, » Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, told Anadolu Agency.
News – Turkey turns iconic Istanbul museum into mosque