Eastern Europe

Turkey Moves To Turn Byzantine Hagia Sophia Back Into A Mosque, Russia Objects

 Deesis mosaic (13th-century) in Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)

Constantinople was the cradle of the Eastern Holy Roman Empire, the foundation of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. Its pride and joy was the Hagia Sophia, a massive Christian temple constructed in 537 AD by Emperor Justinian I.

After being conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, the city was eventually renamed Istanbul and the temple turned into an Islamic mosque.

However, Turkish secularist Kemal Ataturk decreed the facility a museum in 1935 and its Christian past was literally uncovered for the world to see.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Image by Arild Vågen

Turkish President and Islamist Recep Erdogan now fashions himself the new sultan and wants this Christian history banished forever.

This week, Turkish authorities removed the temple’s museum status and paved the way for Muslim worship to begin.

The Turkish Council of State has revoked the Turkish government’s decree on assigning the Hagia Sophia cathedral museum status, the CNN Turk TV channel reported on Friday, reported Russian state news agency TASS.

Thus, the authorities of the republic received a legal opportunity to change the status of the Hagia Sophia from museum to a mosque.

Kievan Rus, and eventually the Russian empire, was Christianized by Vladimir the Great after he sent emissaries into Constantinople, who marveled at the beauty of the Orthodox Christian cathedrals.

The Kremlin in Moscow has been vocal against the purported change to the UNESCO World Heritage site. Russia has enshrined the Russian Orthodox Church into its constitution.

The Kremlin hopes that Turkey will keep Hagia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site in mind when deciding on the fate of the historic landmark, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

“We by all means hope that Hagia Sophia’s status as a world heritage site will be taken into consideration,” he said.

“Of course, this is a world masterpiece beloved by tourists coming to Turkey from all over the world and especially by tourists from Russia who not only recognize Hagia Sophia’s tourist value but also it’s sacred spiritual value,” he added.

“We do hope that all this will be taken into account by our Turkish colleagues and partners,” he repeated.

Peskov stressed that the Kremlin cannot comment on Turkey’s decision itself. “This is the Turkish republic’s internal affair,” he stressed.

The Kremlin spokesman recalled that Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin had already made statements on this matter, reported TASS.

Amid the latest news about the historic landmark, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill called for preserving the neutral status of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which is a symbol for millions of Christians. He was alarmed by calls from some Turkish politicians to review Hagia Sophia’s museum status, which is one of the greatest monuments to Christian culture.

Local Turkish media has reported that Muslim worship inside the facility will begin soon.

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