Turkey’s agenda has become preoccupied with Hagia Sophia, which has a significant reputation all over the world. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) recently announced that they are preparing to open Hagia Sophia, which has been used as a de facto museum since 1934, to worship for Muslims.
Greece, which considers itself a continuation of Byzantium, has also been involved in the debate over remarks by the Turkish government. The stance of Athens implies that Turkey has no right to carry out such a transformation on Hagia Sophia.
Before starting this debate, we need to take a look at the history of Hagia Sophia that makes it so special.
Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest cathedrals in the world, built in 537 A.D. by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Its enormous dome is unique. It is one of the holiest places on earth for Christians. It still welcomes its visitors in the historic peninsula in Istanbul with all its glory.
Hagia Sophia has belonged to Turks since the time of Sultan Mehmed II, who seized Istanbul from the Byzantines in 1453 and attained the title of conqueror. When Mehmed the Conqueror crossed the huge walls and entered the city, he first went to Hagia Sophia, and he presented this structure to his people as the “right of the sword,” as stipulated by the law of the time.
From that day on, the sultan established a careful relationship with this structure, taking over the maintenance of the building and restoring its dilapidated main dome and other parts that were in ruins. This is because the seizure of the structure by Muslims is the concrete symbol of the triumphant emergence of Islamic civilization from the Middle Ages.
Mehmed the Conqueror turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque without damaging the historical fabric of the building. He also added a masjid to the side of the building.
As the new owners, all of the Ottoman rulers doted on the structure which the Christian world could never forget. They commissioned the most valuable architects of the time to protect Hagia Sophia against time and earthquakes. In other words, there are traces of valuable figures such as Mimar Sinan in Hagia Sophia that have survived to date.
After the transition from a monarchy to a modern republic, it was decided in 1934 that the exterior of Hagia Sophia, as well as the mosque, be arranged as a museum.
Since then, however, the interior main section of Hagia Sophia has been used only as a museum. Muslims worship in a small area of the building called Hünkar Kasrı.
The government has not yet shared details with the press about the level at which Hagia Sophia will be opened for worship. Perhaps they will only be content with a symbolic transformation, such as the recitation of the Adhan from the minarets of Hagia Sophia. However, the government does not have any local or international binding legal barriers to carrying out a transformation of the scale they want.
Therefore, the demands of Greece, which has reacted to the issue, are null and void. This is a domestic political issue of the Republic of Turkey, which is a sovereign state.
Moreover, Greece, which has not opened even a single mosque for worship in Athens, where dozens of Turks and Muslims live, should be calm. Greece is in no position to advise Turkey, which has numerous churches and synagogues all around, to tolerate differences.