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A man waves a Turkish flag outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia. PA

'Dismay' from worldwide church group over decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into mosque

Turkish president Erdogan yesterday formally converted the museum back into a mosque

THE WORLD COUNCIL of Churches has written to Turkey’s president expressing “grief and dismay” over the decision to change the status of Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.

Interim secretary general of the council Ioan Sauca wrote that, as a World Heritage museum, “Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations”.

The colossal Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453.

The secular Turkish government decided in 1934 to make it a museum.

Sauca said the museum status had been “a powerful expression” of Turkey’s commitment to inclusion and secularism.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday formally converted the building back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled the 1934 decision to turn it into a museum.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the debate over Hagia Sophia to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party.

The decision has provoked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.

Today, Erdogan rejected worldwide condemnation over the decision, saying it represented his country’s will to use its “sovereign rights”.

In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Quran at Hagia Sophia.  

“Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries … attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights,” Erdogan said today during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.

- With reporting by AFP.

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