In Historic Step, Turkey Restores Hagia Sophia to Mosque, Sparking Mixed Reactions At Home and Abroad
Soon after the young Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II led his triumphant army to newly conquered Constantinople, the capital of the defeated Byzantium Empire, he set out an ambitious project to rebuild the city from its ruins after a two-month siege in 1453. Hagia Sophia, the greatest church of Eastern Christendom, stood as the crown jewel of all prizes and the young Sultan simply invoked the law of the conqueror when he converted the church into a mosque. In an indication of the dawn of a new epoch, Constantinople became Istanbul as the new imperial capital of the Muslim Ottomans. Correspondingly, Hagia Sophia began to serve as the religious site of the new masters of, to borrow the phrase of Philip Mansel, the city of the world’s desire.
It remained so until 1934 when the founding fathers of the Turkish Republic designated Hagia Sophia as a museum with a cabinet decision that generated controversy even decades after. The move has become an enduring source of friction between secular elites and pious masses to this day. It served as a rallying cry for adherents of center-right conservative politics. Esref Ziya’s Ayasofya song epitomized the feelings of a generation in the early 1990s when Erdogan first ran to become Istanbul’s mayor. The song represented a yearning for the loss of Hagia Sophia’s mosque identity and served as a glue to assemble a strong coalition of disgruntled pious Turks.
After weeks of wrangling and squabbling, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration took a historical step in a snub to the international community when a government-pliant court ruled in favor of the proposal to declare Hagia Sophia a mosque again on Friday. A…