Turkey's decision to turn Hagia Sophia into mosque sparks controversies
A decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn the world-famous Hagia Sophia building into a mosque has triggered controversies around the world.
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Erdogan's announcement on Friday came after Turkey's Supreme Court annulled Hagia Sophia's museum status in a case brought by a religious Turkish NGO.
Erdogan told a presser the first Muslim prayers will be held inside the building on 24 July.
There have been several attempts by religious bodies in Turkey to change the status of the building in recent years. But all of the previous cases had been rejected by the courts.
Immediately after the announcement a crowd gathered outside the building to celebrate the decision and some other Turkish citizens expressed satisfaction on social media.
But several governments, including Russia, Greece, the US and France, were quick to voice their opposition to Hagia Sophia becoming a mosque.
The move has been described by some western analysts as part of Erdogan's "Neo-Ottoman" plans to shore up his base among religious and nationalist Turks.
The Western governments have levelled serious criticism against Turkey in recent years, accusing Erdogan of following a religious authoritarian agenda. Revival of hopes of Muslims
Following the announcement that Hagia Sophia would become a mosque on Saturday, the Turkish Presidency website quoted Erdogan as saying, “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the footsteps of the will of Muslims across the world to come… the resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the reignition of the fire of hope of Muslims and all oppressed, wrong, downtrodden and exploited.”
The structure was first built as an Orthodox church over 1,500 years ago. When the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque and became a symbol of the power of the Ottoman Empire.
The building served as a mosque for 481 years, and in 1934 the secular founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk sanctioned its conversion to a museum.
Erdogan has argued that the 1934 decision to turn the mosque into a museum did not comply with laws.
However, he has vowed that the mosque will continue to be open to non-Muslims.
Hagia Sophia has become the country's most popular tourist attraction, drawing 3.7 million visitors in 2019.
"Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries ... attack Turkey's will to use its sovereign rights," Erdogan said at a ceremony he attended via video-conference on Saturday.