Turkey

Turkish spokesman: Hagia Sophia icons to be preserved

In interview, presidential spokesman rejects claims that reconversion into mosque will damage world historical heritage

Havva Kara Aydin   | 11.07.2020
Turkish spokesman: Hagia Sophia icons to be preserved

ANKARA

A senior Turkish official on Saturday answered questions surrounding Turkey's reconversion of the Hagia Sophia, an Istanbul landmark, into a mosque, stressing that the religious iconography in the sixth-century complex would be preserved.

Questioning why the former museum was "turned into a museum in the first place," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin underlined that its religious icons would remain "untouched" for the viewing of people of all faiths.

In an interview with TRT World and BBC, Kalin underlined that the move to turn the Hagia Sophia, which had served as a mosque for nearly half a century, back into a Muslim place of worship had the support of all parties in Turkey.

"There is overwhelming support and consensus on this issue if you look at the political parties, the opposition parties, the republican party, they all supported this issue," he said.

Dismissing claims as untrue that world historical heritage would be "shadowed or destroyed" by the decision, Kalin said: "In regards to the arguments of secularism, religious tolerance and coexistence, there are more than four hundred churches and synagogues open in Turkey today."

On Twitter, Kalin stressed that all visitors would have access to the religious and cultural heritage of the Hagia Sophia, including its icons and mosaics.

"Any claim to the contrary is simply false," he said.

On Friday, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 cabinet decree, which had turned Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum.

This verdict by the court paved the way for its use again as a mosque after 85 years.

The court ruled that the architectural gem was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul, and presented to the community as a mosque -- a status that cannot be legally changed.

The Hagia Sophia was used as a church for centuries under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. It was turned into a mosque following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum.

President Erdogan said the historical complex would be ready for worship by July 24 for Friday prayer.

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