President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey had undertaken a “wrong decision” back in 1934 by making Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia a museum and now his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was “correcting a mistake.”
“We turned Hagia Sophia into a museum [in 1934] through a wrong decision, and we are returning it to a mosque again,” Erdogan said on July 14, following a Cabinet meeting in the capital Ankara. “We are correcting a mistake. The incident is that simple.”
Built in the sixth century as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, decreed that the ancient structure should be a museum.
On July 10, Turkey’s Council of State — the highest administrative court in the country – paved the way for Hagia Sophia’s conversion back into mosque despite international warnings against such a move.
Shortly after the court’s decision, Erdoğan handed over the iconic structure’s control to the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).
“I would like to once again here underline that Hagia Sophia was converted from a museum to a mosque, not from a church,” Erdoğan said on July 14.
Erdoğan also said that Turkey will protect Hagia Sofia’s cultural heritage like its predecessors did. “While making Hagia Sophia suitable for its foundation again, we will preserve its cultural heritage feature just as our forebears did,” he said.
On July 13, AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik said that mosaics in the ancient structure will be covered by curtains or lasers during times of Muslim prayer.
The Christian icons would be uncovered and be open to all visitors at other times, and admission would be free of charge, Çelik said.
It was not immediately clear how the lasers would work.