Hagia Sophia: Museum or mosque?

It seems that there is at least some willingness on the side of government of Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia into functioning mosques. But it will be definitely a controversial topic, especially abroad and it will it attract lot of attention. Does it make any sense to even think about it, can the government gain something from it politically, at least domestically? Read few comments.

Serhat Güvenç, Associate Professor of International Relations, Kadir Has University

Yes, for the devout Muslims it may make sense to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque from a museum regardless of its international repercussions. It occurs to me that some in the government, if not the whole government, entertained the idea for sometime to shore up the support for the ruling the AKP in the upcoming elections (local, presidential and then general). The idea has been around for quite some time but no government has made such a “bold” move which for sure would complicate Turkey’s international image. Since a new chapter has just been opened with the EU and Turkish government is hoping to use the recent visa liberalization deal with the EU in its election platform, the idea of turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque again is probably left to hybernate. At any rate, it will remain a burning desire for some in Turkey in coming years and even in coming decades.

Dimitris Tsarouhas, Acting Chair, Jean Monnet Chair and Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Bilkent University

A series of old churches have been turned into mosques over recent times in Turkey. Whether this will be done for Hagia Sophia in Istanbul remains to be seen. What is certain is that such a discussion helps consolidate support from the nationalist/Islamist segments of the population and reflects the growing confidence of today’s Turkey, not least because of its economic performance over recent times. Aware that it is controversial abroad, the government will surely not act quickly on this subject.

Thomas Diez, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

This will not only be controversial outside, but even more so perhaps inside Turkey. Unfortunately, the AKP, which in the beginning of the millennium was crucial in breaking up and liberalising the Turkish political system, is increasingly becoming a problem by moving the pendulum too far to the religious side of the spectrum. It thus contributes to the antagonisation of Turkish politics. Turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque again (which of course it had been pre-Ataturk) is a highly symbolic gesture in this context, which will be seen by many secular and liberal Turks as another indication of the “real” inclinations of the AKP. It has to be said that Erdogan was at least initially sceptical about such a move, perhaps because of the unforeseeable implications domestically, and one can only hope that some restraint will prevail in this debate. It is not in my view us outside Turkey who ought to be offended by such a move – Hagia Sophia was a Mosque for about 500 years, it had been a church for about 800 years before that. Of course the ideal would be if both Muslims and Christians could use it as a hourse of prayer – then it would serve as a real site where humankind comes together!


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