In Historic Step, Turkey Restores Hagia Sophia to Mosque, Sparking Mixed Reactions At Home and Abroad

Amid signs of populism and political scores, a Turkish court turned Hagia Sophia back to a mosque. The result was a mixed sense of outcry, resentment and joy both at home and abroad.

Tourists visit Hagia Sophia amid strict measures of social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: AFP)

Hagia Sophia as a Mirror Image of Its Age

From the very first moment of the Ottoman conquest down to this day, any change in Hagia Sophia’s venerable status has served as a mirror of its age; it unwittingly functioned as a barometer of larger changes in underlying socio-political and religious currents beneath the surface. When it became a mosque, it marked the end of Eastern Christendom as the dominant religion of Constantinople after more than 1,000 years. Its conversion to a museum in 1934 signified the close of another chapter in the city: the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the end of Islam as the official religion of the new nation-state, and a farewell to city’s role as the imperial capital for more than 1,500 years. Reading the story of Hagia Sophia’s metamorphosis each time has become synonymous with reading each successive era in the city’s rich imperial history. Every change about the status of Hagia Sophia says something about the era, the socio-political context, the religious situation, and many more. Friday’s historic decision was certainly no exception.

A Divided Turkey

A general view of Hagia Sophia.

International Outcry

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s final decision, tension piled up between Turkey and Greece, between Ankara and the Ecumenical Patriarch, between President Erdogan and the international community. The Turkish president previously dismissed any outside criticism as interference in Turkey’s national sovereignty.

New York-based writer. Politics, culture, literary criticism, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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