World Media

Turkey turning Hagia Sophia back into mosque divides social media


Hagia Sophia, or "Divine Wisdom" in Greek, was completed in 537 by Byzantine emperor Justinian.

"Opening of Hagia Sophia to prayer is a proud moment for all Muslims", said Rafat Murra, head of global press office of Hamas, in a written statement.

Erdogan has in recent years placed great emphasis on the battles which resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans, with lavish celebrations held every year to mark the conquest.

The US is "disappointed" in Erdogan's decision, State Department Spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Friday.

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire and was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453 and changed the city's name to Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was the most popular museum in Turkey a year ago, drawing more than 3.7 million visitors.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the iconic Hagia Sophia museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and on of the archaeological wonders of the world, will be reclassified as a mosque and will be opened for Muslim worship.

Far too many commentators and news reports have attempted to frame the issue - which will undoubtedly cause an enormous amount of political and diplomatic upheaval with many of Turkey's allies and close trading partners - as a dispute between Greece and Turkey.

"It is consistent with the government's projection in the east Mediterranean and Libya".

Erdogan has demanded that the the hugely symbolic world heritage site should be turned back into a mosque despite widespread global criticism, including from the United States and Orthodox Christian leaders.

The UN, specifically UNESCO, and the European Union have a duty to guarantee that architectural achievements like Hagia Sophia remain a cultural heritage for the world to, not only enjoy, but to learn from.

Christodoulides said Turkey's "escalating, flagrant violation of its worldwide obligations is manifested in its decision to alter the designation of Hagia Sophia, a world heritage site that is a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith". In 1931, it was closed to the public and became a museum in 1935 as part of a decree by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

"Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims".

In Istanbul, hundreds of people gathered near Hagia Sophia to celebrate the ruling.

The landmark has been regarded as a symbol of solidarity between different faiths and cultures.

Russian Federation has called the move "a mistake", while Cyprus has strongly condemned the decision as well.

"I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia as a mosque by preserving the common cultural heritage of humanity", Erdoğan stressed. Deputy Director Ernesto Ottone Ramirez offering a tepid affirmation that the site's status can not be altered without wider approval from the body's own intergovernmental committee. Cyprus's Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said Cyprus condemned the decision; earlier, a resolution had been tabled in the Cyprus parliament to condemn the Turkish government's plans.

Tourists could still visit the Hagia Sophia, just as they are able to see the Blue Mosque nearby.

Erdogan's order has also caused consternation in Russian Federation.