Pope’s remarks ‘to accelerate Hagia Sophia’s conversion into mosque’
ANKARAPope Francis’ labeling of the mass killings of the Ottoman Armenians as “the first genocide of the 20th century” will only accelerate the reopening of Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship, the top Islamic official in Ankara has suggested.
“Frankly, I believe that the pope’s remarks will only accelerate the process for Hagia Sophia to be re-opened for [Muslim] worship,” Professor Mefail Hızlı, the mufti of Ankara, said in a written statement released late April 15.
According to Hızlı, the pope’s statement “has reflected a modern color of the crusader wars launched in these lands for centuries.” These lands have long been the “standard bearer” of the Muslim world, meaning many enemies, both from inside and outside of the country, have been launching attacks with different methods.
“The statement that the Catholic world’s spiritual leader pope delivered three days ago, saying Armenians had been subjected to a genocide, is extremely spectacular,” Hızlı said, noting that the pope’s statement was intruding on the realm of historians and was hastily made.
Hızlı did not touch on the precise relationship between Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, and the Haghia Sophia, which served as a Greek Orthodox basilica until the Turkish conquest in 1453.
Armenia says up to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians were killed in a genocide starting in 1915. Turkey denies that the deaths amounted to genocide, saying the death toll of Armenians killed during mass deportations has been inflated and that those killed in 1915 and 1916 were victims of general unrest during World War I.
Stressing that all sides, not just Armenians, suffered in Anatolia 100 years ago, Hızlı also recalled that the theme of the 2015 Holy Birth Week, marking the birth of Prophet Muhammad, was the “Prophet and the Moral of Coexistence.”
Debate over landmark’s status
The Hagia Sophia Museum was first dedicated as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica in 360. Until 1453 it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople. Following the city’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire, the building turned into a mosque in 1453 and remained so until 1931, when it was closed to the public for four years. It was reopened by the authorities of Turkey’s young Republic in 1935 as a museum.
The status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with a number of campaigns to open it for Muslim prayers being initiated, despite suggestions that this would be disrespectful to the building’s past as a church.
Back in November 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç expressed his hope of seeing the Hagia Sophia be used as a mosque, already calling it the “Hagia Sophia Mosque” while speaking to reporters.
“We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque … we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon,” Arınç said at the time in a speech during the opening ceremony of a new Carpet Museum, located adjacent to the ancient Hagia Sophia complex.
First Quran recitation in 85 years
On April 10, a Muslim cleric recited the Quran in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years.
A passage from the Quran was recited late on April 10 at a ceremony in the Hagia Sophia to mark the opening of a new exhibition “Love of the Prophet” on the occasion of the 2015 Holy Birth Week.
It was read by Ali Tel, imam at the Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque in Ankara.
The ceremony was attended by top Turkish officials including the country’s top cleric, President Mehmet Görmez of the Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet).