A few days ago, deputy prime minister of Turkey Bulent Arinc stood next to Hagia Sophia and made a shocking declaration: he declared to his audience that “[w]e currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque […] we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.”
The Greek government has released a response:
“The repeated statements from Turkish officials regarding the conversion of Byzantine Christian churches into mosques are an insult to the religious sensibilities of millions of Christians and are actions that are anachronistic and incomprehensible from a state that declares it wants to participate as a full member in the European Union, a fundamental principle of which is respect for religious freedom. Byzantine Christian churches are an intrinsic element of world cultural and religious heritage, and they should receive the necessary respect and protection.”
Of course, the Turkish government couldn’t care less about the reaction of Greeks or Christians. The movement within Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque has gained steam as of late, and earlier this year, a petition was submitted to a parliamentary commission to accomplish the conversion.
Less than two weeks ago, a bill was introduced in Turkish parliament to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, laughably claiming that its conversion into the museum it is today was somehow “illegal.” This is what the bill’s sponsor had to say about the matter:
“This bill has been prepared aiming to open the Hagia Sophia – which is the symbol of the Conquest of Istanbul and which has been resounding with the sounds of the call to prayer for 481 years – as a mosque for prayers.”
And there you have it. For millions around the world, Hagia Sophia symbolizes the history of Christianity, the glorious grandeur of Byzantine architecture, or the stunning ability of man to sculpt faith into a creation that stirs the hearts of onlookers to this very day.
For the bill’s sponsor and many others in Turkey? Hagia Sophia is simply “the symbol of the Conquest of Istanbul,” a passive representation of the height of Ottoman power. For them, Hagia Sophia has no intrinsic value but is instead a means to an end. Its conversation into a mosque would be yet another “conquest,” a victorious notch in the proverbial belt of an re-ascendent Ottomanism.
The “Blue Mosque” – located just a over a kilometer away from Hagia Sophia.
After all, it’s not like the city needs another mosque. Just one kilometer away from Hagia Sophia is Turkey’s famous Blue Mosque, completed in 1616 and still used to this day as a mosque for prayers.
Still, the relentless pursuit of converting historical Christian sites to mosques marches on in Turkey. One other Hagia Sophia, a smaller church-turned-museum in Trabzon, Turkey, has already been turned into a mosque this year. A court ruled that its conversion into a museum was “illegal.” It’s a case that sets a dangerous precedent.
We need your help to stand up for Hagia Sophia. Add your voice to the international petition in opposition to converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque: