News / Europe

    Turkish Leaders Aim to Turn Hagia Sophia Back into a Mosque

    King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway  pose in front of Hagia Sophia Mosque on November 7, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.
    King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway pose in front of Hagia Sophia Mosque on November 7, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.
    Dorian Jones
    A senior Turkish minister’s call to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia - now  a museum -- back into a mosque has provoked a religious and diplomatic row. The Hagia Sofia, which was originally built as a church, remains an important symbol of Christianity for many Christians.

    The status of the mosque has always remained contentious. For 1000 years it was Christendom’s most important church at the center of the Byzantium Empire. With the fall of then Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks it was turned into a mosque. Then in 1931 Turkey’s secular rulers turned it into a museum. Now deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, during a visit earlier this month to the Hagia Sofia, has indicated change again could be in the offing.

    He said there was a time when former mosques could function as museums, but there is a different Turkey now. He said the Hagia Sophia is sad now but God willing it will soon smile again.

    Professor Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul’s Dogus University is an expert on religion and the state. She says elections and politics are likely to be behind such a move.

    "For the pro-Islamic government it’s important to have the monument be a mosque," she said. "So why now are they trying to convert it back to a mosque? It’s got to do with the current political climate in the country, the local elections approaching that would be a significant source for votes."

    Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already in campaign mode touring the country rallying the faithful, often using a mix of religion and nationalist rhetoric. Analysts point out turning the Hagia Sophia  back into a mosque will also play well among many nationalist voters, who see it as a symbol of the once mighty Turkish Ottoman Empire.

    Along with millions of tourists, many Turks also visit the Hagia Sofia annually. One young Turkish person says he has no doubt that it should be turned back into a mosque.

    "We don't want to lose our culture; we want to come here for Friday prayers," he said. "I believe with our prime minister and deputy prime minster's support it will be a mosque again.

    Istanbul is home to the Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate. Concern has already been growing with the government’s recent conversion from museums to mosques of two smaller historical churches that share the Hagia Sophia's name.

    Eminence Metropolitan Genadios of Sassima warns that the turning of Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia into a mosque would be a step too far.

    "They have to realize very concretely how seriously the consequences of the whole world and the international community and how it will react," Genadios said. "Because this historical monument is visited every year by millions of people, Christians and non-Christians who realize it’s the image and picture of a religion, which is Christianity."

    Athens has already condemned even the suggestion of converting the Hagia Sofia to a mosque. But Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levant Gumrukcu says Ankara does not need lectures on religious freedom.

    "Turkey’s record in terms of respecting the sanctity of religious places is very well known. It does not need to be proven at all."

    Observers warn, the war of words could well be just a harbinger of things to come, with the Orthodox Church having powerful allies both in Washington and Brussels.

    You May Like

    Video US Observes Memorial Day With Wreath-laying, National Concert

    Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Amro from: Poland
    December 08, 2013 12:31 PM
    Cordoba mosque in spain is now a church, they left no respect for any muslims, same in sicilia italy, many mosques were converted to churches, aya sofia will be a mosque again, specially that the majority of istanbul population are muslims, and if the People of istanbul vote for converting aya sofia back to a mosque, WHY NOT., Istanbul pas constantinople

    by: Keys
    November 29, 2013 5:42 PM
    Who are these people who want to convert Aghia Sophia back to a mosque? Why do these people want to go backwards in time making clear their views about the role they want Turkey to have in today's world? Is this how they want to show the sensitivity and respect Turks claim to have towards other people? Are these people serious about Turkey's aspirations to become part of Europe? Do these people think that having taken Aghia Sophia by force gives them the moral right to do anything they like with it?

    by: Tarkan from: Turkey
    November 29, 2013 2:55 PM
    now you know... for all the skeptics out there who thought that Turkey is a "Modern Islamic State..." look how wrong you all were... Turkey is a degenerate repressive Muslim terrorist State. A NATO member who sends Al Qaeda into Syria to kill innocents. where is the USA??? what happened to the USA..??

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora