Erdogan Calls Hagia Sophia Mosque Conversion ‘Sovereign Right’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed critics of plans to convert one of Istanbul’s most magnificent buildings and its most popular tourist attraction into a mosque by calling it Turkey’s “sovereign right” to do so. The 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral but was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. In 1934, under Turkey’s sweeping post-imperial secularization process championed by Kemal Ataturk, the structure was turned into a museum. On Friday, barely an hour after Turkey’s top court declared it legal to reverse that decision, the pro-Islamist Erdogan announced that Muslim prayers would be held there starting July 24. “We made this decision not looking at what others say, but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere,” he said on Saturday, referring to recent controversial military moves the country has made in two other nations. As he made the remarks, police were placing barriers at entrance points to the Hagia Sophia’s grounds and turning away tourists.