Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum should be converted into a common place of worship, wrote Turkey’s Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Şahak Maşalyan (Şahak II) in a tweet over the weekend.
Built in the 6th century by Byzantine emperor Justinian as a church, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the conquering of Constantinople in 1453. It was turned into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
The issue of the Hagia Sophia being reconverted into a mosque has again emerged on the agenda, and it is often instrumentalized as a political issue by Islamist pundits and politicians in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Hagia Sophia would no longer be referred to as a museum but as a mosque, though he also said that the nearby Sultanahmet Mosque should first be full, then they would look toward transforming the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
“The Hagia Sophia was built with the labor of ten thousand people and at the cost of a fortune. It has been restored countless times over the course of 1500 years, [including the] efforts of the Fatih Sultan Foundation, and all of this was done to protect it as a place of worship, not as a museum,” Maşalyan wrote, adding that a special section should be reserved for Christians.
“I think it is more appropriate that it takes on the disposition of a place of worship for the faithful who are on their knees praying in submission God, rather than curious tourists running from here to there to take photographs,” Maşalyan said.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül also urged that the Hagia Sophia be transformed into a mosque:
“It is the only mosque that has turnstiles, and it is mandatory by law for this shame to be removed. It is the common wish of all of us for the Hagia Sophia’s chains to be broken and for it to be opened as a place of worship, and to bring the legacy of Mehmet the Conquerer into place,” Gül said.
The opposition İYİ (Good) Party submitted a motion to convert the popular tourist site into a mosque earlier this month, but the proposal was rejected by AKP lawmakers.