Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 July 2020

Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday

  • The propsoed restoration as a mosque has raised alarm among US, Russian and Greek officials and Christian church leaders
  • Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country

ANKARA: Turkish court is likely to announce on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, two Turkish officials said, paving the way for its restoration as a mosque despite international concerns.
President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was central to both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and is now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
The prospect of such a move has raised alarm among US, Russian and Greek officials and Christian church leaders ahead of a verdict by Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, which held a hearing last Thursday.
At issue is the legality of a decision taken in 1934, a decade after the creation of the modern secular Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to turn the ancient building into a museum.
“We expect the decision to be an annulment (and) the verdict to come out on Friday,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
An official from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots, also said the decision “in favor of an annulment” was expected on Friday.
Pro-government columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper that the court had already made the annulment ruling and would publish it on Friday.
“This nation has been waiting for 86 years. The court lifted the chain of bans on Hagia Sophia,” he wrote.
The association that brought the case said Hagia Sophia was the property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who in 1453 captured the city, then known as Constantinople, and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said a conversion would disappoint Christians and “fracture” East and West. The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church said it would threaten Christianity.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Greece have also urged Turkey to maintain the museum status.
But Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country.


Lebanon’s death toll increases, historic buildings endangered

Updated 11 min 47 sec ago

Lebanon’s death toll increases, historic buildings endangered

  • The explosion forced nearly 300,000 to leave their homes
  • UNESCO warned that 60 historic buildings were at risk of collapse

DUBAI: Lebanon’s health ministry reported five additional deaths following the devastating Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut blast, increasing the death toll to 177, national Lebanese newspaper Daily Star reported.
It is largely believed a stockpile of ammonium nitrate in warehouse 12 exploded in a fire, initially killing approximately 73 people, but that number has continued to grow since then. 
There was also approximately 6,000 people injured and 300,000 forced out of their homes.
Meanwhile, UN’s cultural agency UNESCO vowed to lead efforts to protect vulnerable heritage in Lebanon, warning that 60 historic buildings were at risk of collapse.
The effects of the blast were felt all over the Lebanese capital but some of the worst damage was in the Gemmayzeh and Mar-Mikhael neighborhoods a short distance from the port. Both are home to a large concentration of historic buildings.
“The international community has sent a strong signal of support to Lebanon following this tragedy,” said Ernesto Ottone, assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture.
“UNESCO is committed to leading the response in the field of culture, which must form a key part of wider reconstruction and recovery efforts.”
Sarkis Khoury, head of antiquities at the ministry of culture in Lebanon, said there had been at least 8,000 buildings reported as having been impacted by the blast.
“Among them are some 640 historic buildings, approximately 60 of which are at risk of collapse,” UNESCO said in a statement.
“He (Khoury) also spoke of the impact of the explosion on major museums, such as the National Museum of Beirut, the Sursock Museum and the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut, as well as cultural spaces, galleries and religious sites.”
Even before the explosion, there had been growing concern in Lebanon about the condition of heritage sites in Beirut due to rampant construction and a lack of preservation for historic buildings in the densely-packed city.
A UNESCO spokesman said Khoury “stressed the need for urgent structural consolidation and waterproofing interventions to prevent further damage from approaching autumn rains.”
Lebanon’s government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned this week following days of demonstrations demanding accountability for the disaster.