Istanbul, MINA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Hagia Sophia or Aya Sophia in Istanbul is open again for Muslim worship places after the high court ruled that the conversion of buildings to museums by statesmen of modern Turkish founders was illegal.
Erdogan made the announcement on Friday (July 10), an hour after the court ruling was issued, despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, which is worshiped by Christians and Muslims, Al-Jazeera reported.
“The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Aya Sophia Mosque to the Directorate of Religious Affairs and open it for worship,” it was written in a decree signed by President Erdogan.
Erdogan previously proposed to restore the mosque’s status from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the focal point of the Christian Byzantine empire and the Muslim Ottoman Empire and is now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
Previously, the Turkish High Court revoked the status of the Hagia Sophia in the Byzantine era as a museum. The State Council, which debated the case brought by the Turkish religious organization, overturned a 1934 cabinet decision to declare the sixth-century building a museum.
“It was concluded that the deed of settlement allocates it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not legally possible,” the Turkish Administrative Court said in the decision.
“The cabinet decision of 1934 which ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum does not obey the law,” he added.
Erdogan through his Twitter shared a copy of the decree he signed, saying the decision had been taken to hand over control of the Aya Sophia Mosque as it is known in Turkey, to the country’s religious directorate and reopen it for prayer.
The Hagia Sophia was first built as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but then converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
In 1935, the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk made it a museum.
The organization that brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia belonged to an Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and turned a 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.
Responding to the ruling, the Russian Orthodox Church said the decision could lead to greater divisions.
The United States, Russia and Greece, together with UNESCO, have expressed their concerns before the decision.
Erdogan himself rejected international criticism and regarded it as an attack on Turkish sovereignty. (T/R7/RE1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)