A possible effect of the conversion of the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, as it had been until 1934 after the reconquest of the Ottoman troops in 1453, will be the decrease in tourists and not only for the effects of Covid-19. The precious mosaic works and frescoes of the Christian age must be somewhat obscured, at least at the time of prayer, this by the explicit will of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that with its decision-making now risks risking to embody even more an aggressive Islam, incapable of respect for the places of history linked to Christianity. In fact, Santa Sofia (formerly a UNESCO heritage site) had welcomed nearly 4 million visitors in 2019 and was a Christian basilica for 916 years, before becoming a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople. In succession the father of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had it transformed into a museum.
The appeal of the Committee for Human Brotherhood
Many voices have risen against the Turkish government’s decision to reactivate this place of worship. The High Committee for Human Brotherhood sent a letter to the World Council of Churches to launch an appeal to the Turkish President asking to reconsider the decision taken to “avoid cultivating old animosities and divisions.” The Human Brotherhood Committee, composed of Christian, Muslim and Jewish members, was founded last August in the capital of the United Arab Emirates to promote the ideals contained in the Abu Dhabi statement signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
On the day of July 24, however, the bells of the Greek Orthodox churches of Cyprus rang for five minutes at the time of Islamic prayer as announced by the Cypriot archbishopric in a statement reported by the Cyprus Mail newspaper, which he called “arbitrary, unacceptable and criminal “the conversion of the former basilica from museum to mosque.
Hagia Sophia, which with evident irony is also called Lalla Safia (Lalla is the honorary title of the Berber matrons), it has gone through war and peace, clashes and reconciliation over the centuries and then placed itself in the bed of a secularism that presided over Turkish modernity and post-modernity.
The difficulties with Greece
Erdogan (self-proclaimed Emir of the believers) has sparked reactions all over the world as he takes back what was a monument that blended Christianity and Islam together. “Turkey should decide who they want to belong to geo-politically – Vice President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas said – As a Greek I am angry, today is a complicated day and I think others also share my mood. I think the Turkey must decide which geopolitical position to have and who it wants to align itself with. If it wants to work with Europe on the basis of our principles and values, what is happening in Hagia Sophia is not a good starting point. ” Moreover, Greece had called Turkey’s move a clear provocation open to the civilized world.
The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed dismay at Turkey’s decision to revoke the museum status of Hagia Sophia, accusing it of ignoring the voices of millions of Christians. Earlier Orthodox leaders had urged caution regarding the transformation of the status of the historic former cathedral. Russian patriarch Kirill has expressed deep concern about this move. A reaction that found wide echo in the Moscow political world, Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs commission in the upper house of the Russian parliament, called the action an obvious mistake. “Turning it into a mosque will serve no purpose for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, on the contrary it puts them on a collision course,” said Dzhabarov.
The political move
However, Erdogan, whose political fortunes are not insured for eternity, knows that the acquisition of Santa Sofia opens up an internal electoral value: after losing the city hall of Istanbul, and in view of the 2023 elections, he ensures support of the fundamentalist electorate. On the international level, negative reactions have so far not taken a disabling impact and the owner of Ankara feels increasingly free to do what he wants and to spread towards Syria and Libya by disarticulating the old Mediterranean arrangements.
The West partially withdrawn
Thus writes Kamel Abderrahmani on website Asianews.it: “The western world does not seem to grasp the foundations of this decision. The newspaper ‘Le Monde’, naively comments: Transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque:” a reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will not prevent tourists of all religions from to visit it, there are many who visit the nearby Blue Mosque every day! ‘. As if Santa Sofia was in history only a simple museum, and as if Erdogan’s fundamentalism stopped there! “
For the USA disappointing decision
Even this “annexation” is not approved across the Atlantic. “We are disappointed with the Turkish government’s decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia,” said State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus in a statement. “We understand that the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to Hagia Sophia for all visitors, “said the spokesman.
The pain of Pope Francis
Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, the Russian Orthodox Synod, the World Council of Churches, Unesco and several governments – including Islamic ones, such as the Emirates – expressed their pain and their opposition to the use of the basilica for a single community religious, contravening the universal value of the building. The Pope had visited Hagia Sophia on 29 November 2014 on the occasion of his apostolic trip to Turkey. At the end of the visit, he had placed a dedication on the Golden Book writing in Greek characters: “Αγία Σοφία του Θεού. The Holy Wisdom of God ”.
The songs of Erdogan
On his Twitter account, Erdogan shared a video with images of Santa Sofia, accompanied by the music and words of a song entitled “Ayasofya”, composed by Yücel Arzen and interpreted in different languages by stars of the Islamic world. The words of the song exalt the reconquest: “Saint Sophia – they recite – that the winds of freedom blow on your dome. You belong to us and we have belonged to you forever and ever. ”