Museum or mosque? Turkey debates iconic Hagia Sofia’s status

Updated 02 Jul 2020

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ISTANBUL: An aerial picture of Hagia Sophia museum. —AFP
ISTANBUL: An aerial picture of Hagia Sophia museum. —AFP

ISTANBUL: In its more than 1,400-year existence, the majestic domed structure of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has served as the Byzantine Empires main cathedral, a mosque under the Ottoman Empire and a museum under modern Turkey, attracting millions of tourists each year.

The 6th-century building is now at the center of a heated debate between nationalist, conservative and religious groups who are pressing for it to be reconverted back into a mosque and those who believe the Unesco World Heritage site should remain a museum, underscoring Istanbul’s status as a bridge between continents and cultures.

On Thursday, Turkeys Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, begins reviewing a request by a group devoted to reverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. They are pressing to annul a 1934 decision by the Council of Ministers, led by secular Turkeys founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that turned the historic structure into a museum. A decision could come later on Thursday or within two weeks, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2020