Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan toying with the Hagia Sofia continue in an attempt to return it to Islamic worship. Hagia Sofia is a historic Christian church built by Justinian and converted into a mosque by Mohammed II in 1453 and converted by Kemal Ataturk to the museum in 1935.
Following the announcement of his intention to hold prayers within the historic Costantinian basilica made on the eve of the constitutional referendum, now come the facts: yesterday, for the first time an imam proceeded to read the Koran within Hagia Sophia, complete with live State TV coverage.
These episodes originate in fact 66 years ago, when then Prime Minister Adnan Menderes ruled that Constantinople’s conquest by the Ottomans be celebrated on May 29. Launching the celebrations, memorial plaques were hoisted on various monuments recalling the event, which included a supposed prophecy, announcing the conquest of Constantinople by Mohammed. The city was renamed Istanbul by Kemal Ataturk, founder of Republican Turkey in 1930. One of these plaques dominates the Galata Tower.
In 1953, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the conquest, the Turkish authorities established great festivals, which were later forbidden by the 1960 coup.
In 1990 with the election of the current Turkish President Erdogan as mayor of Istanbul, the commemorations resumed.
In 2009, in order to enhance the importance of Constantinople’s conquest in front of the ancient Byzantine walls, a museum was created, entitled “Panorama 1453”. The foundation of this museum was interpreted as a response from the neo-Ottomans to the (secular)kemali culture.
Since 2013 there have been various initiatives and celebrations to remember the birth of Ottoman Turkey
Since 2012 every year to May 29, prayers are recited in front of Hagia Sophia. This prayer is an expression of the desire of Islamic organizations to use the Hagia Sophia Museum as a mosque, several times a week.
At the head of these attempts is former vice president Bulent Arinc, who has recently taken a certain distance from the current president. But also the brotherhood of the Naxbantiya, to which President Erogan belongs, aims at reopening Hagia Sofia as a mosque.
In the past, Erdogan had rejected claims to of attempts to re-open the Hagia Sofia as the mosque, recalling that the famous Sultan Ahmet mosque, the Blue Mosque, is empty of faithful. But Turkey is familiar with easy u-turns.
As historian and writer Engin Ardic recalled, “persisting in recalling our achievements only means admitting to being alien to the historical culture of these lands.”