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Turkey’s top administrative court revoked the museum status of Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia, effectively turning the building into a mosque, a controversial cause President Recep Tayyip Erdogan championed over criticism from the U.S. and Greece among others.
The court on Friday canceled a 1934 cabinet decree signed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular republic, that had converted Hagia Sophia from a place of Muslim worship into a museum, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Erdogan in May joined prayers at the 6th-century building, originally a Byzantine Cathedral, to mark the Ottoman army’s 1453 conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, as part of his long push to reverse that process.
The president is due to address the nation at 8:53 p.m. — or 20:53 — an apparent reference to the 600th anniversary of the conquest. The Hagia Sophia issue could help Erdogan consolidate popular support. His conservative base, which regards the building as the first mosque used in Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest, is being wooed by rivals who have played up the country’s religious link to the empire.
Turkey Rebuffs U.S. Intervention on Making Hagia Sophia a Mosque
Erdogan has rebuffed opposition from Washington and neighboring Greece, which urged Turkey to maintain the site’s museum status. Hagia Sophia — included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List — carries a special significance for Greeks, who see it as one of the most important Christian monuments and a legacy of an Orthodox tradition dating back to the Byzantine empire.
In a statementon Friday, UNESCO called on “the Turkish authorities to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”
The administrative court said the ruling was taken in line with the will of Mehmet the Conqueror, who in the 15th century donated Hagia Sophia to a foundation under his name for use as a mosque.
Before the decision, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak cited Islamist-nationalist poet Necip Fazil Kisakurek on his Twitter account: “Hagia Sophia will be opened today or tomorrow!” Moments after the announcement of the verdict, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin posted a picture of Hagia Sophia on his Twitter account.
“This is an important turning point for Turkey,” local media cited Numan Kurtulmus, a deputy chairman of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, as saying on Wednesday. “Our people are looking forward to the opening of Hagia Sophia for worship.”
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