President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close friend Muharrem Hilmi Şenalp was granted a tender that was held for the restoration of Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia, according to reporting by daily Birgün.
The restoration tender was given to the business partnership established by three companies, Hassa Architecture, Iras Yapı and Adamak Restoration, for 23 million liras, and the contract was signed on Jan. 21. The companies were asked to complete the restoration and project preparation works by January 2024.
Muharrem Hilmi Şenalp, architect and owner of Hassa Architecture Company, one of the three companies to which the tender was granted, is a "close friend" of President Erdoğan.
Hassa Architecture Company has so far received tenders worth millions of liras from public institutions. It has received 19 separate tenders worth 114.2 million liras from public institutions between 2011 and 2021.
It also received several tenders from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and its affiliates when the municipality was ruled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The company received 11 tenders in total from the municipality under the reign of the AKP.
Several parts of Hagia Sophia have been vandalized by visitors in recent months. Most recently, the walls of the Imperial Hall have been scraped away by assailants and taken in plastic bags. In the face of this latest vandalism, security measures have been tightened inside the mosque.
Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for 900 years until its capture by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, after which it was one of Islam's most exalted mosques for nearly another 500 years.
The mosque was converted into a museum in 1934 by modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 2020, it was converted into a mosque by the ruling AKP.