Dis­may, ela­tion over mon­u­ment turned mosque

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Suzan Fraser Suzan Fraser is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan on Fri­day for­mally con­verted Is­tan­bul’s iconic sixth cen­tury Ha­gia Sophia into a mosque and de­clared it open to Mus­lim wor­ship, hours af­ter a high court an­nulled a 1934 de­ci­sion that had turned it into a mu­seum.

The de­ci­sion to con­vert Ha­gia Sophia — a for­mer cathe­dral that was turned into a mosque af­ter Is­tan­bul’s con­quest by the Ot­toman Em­pire and had served as a mu­seum for 86 years — sparked deep dis­may among Ortho­dox Chris­tians.

But there was ju­bi­la­tion out­side Ha­gia Sophia. Dozens of peo­ple who awaited the court’s rul­ing chanted “Al­lah is great!” when the news was an­nounced.

Turkey’s high ad­min­is­tra­tive court threw its weight be­hind a pe­ti­tion brought by a re­li­gious group and an­nulled the 1934 Cab­i­net de­ci­sion that turned the site into a mu­seum. Within hours, Er­do­gan signed a de­cree hand­ing over Ha­gia Sophia to Turkey’s Re­li­gious Af­fairs Pres­i­dency.

Er­do­gan has de­manded that the hugely sym­bolic world her­itage site should be turned back into a mosque de­spite wide­spread in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing from the United States and Ortho­dox Chris­tian lead­ers. The move could also deepen ten­sions with neigh­bor­ing Greece.

Cypriot For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Christodou­lides, a Greek Cypriot, posted on his of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count that Cyprus “strongly con­demns Turkey’s ac­tions on Ha­gia Sophia in its ef­fort to dis­tract do­mes­tic opin­ion and calls on Turkey to re­spect its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions.”

Na­tion­al­ist and con­ser­va­tive groups have long been yearn­ing to hold prayers at Ha­gia Sophia, which they re­gard as part of the Mus­lim Ot­toman legacy. Oth­ers believe the UNESCO World Her­itage site should re­main a mu­seum, as a sym­bol of Chris­tian and Mus­lim sol­i­dar­ity.

The group that brought the case to court had con­tested the le­gal­ity of the 1934 de­ci­sion by the mod­ern Turk­ish re­pub­lic’s sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and ar­gued that the build­ing was the per­sonal prop­erty of Ot­toman Sultan Mehmet II, who con­quered Is­tan­bul in 1453.

The Is­tan­bul­based Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch Bartholome­w I, con­sid­ered the spir­i­tual leader of the world’s Ortho­dox Chris­tians, warned in late June that the build­ing’s con­ver­sion into a mosque “will turn mil­lions of Chris­tians across the world against Is­lam.”

Er­do­gan, a de­vout Mus­lim, has fre­quently used the Ha­gia Sophia is­sue to drive sup­port for his Is­lamic­rooted party.

Ozan Kose / AFP via Getty Im­ages

Peo­ple gather out­side the Ha­gia Sophia in Is­tan­bul to cel­e­brate af­ter Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan for­mally con­verted the UNESCO World Her­itage site into a mosque.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.