Court to announce Hagia Sophia decision in two weeks
The Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, completed a hearing on whether Hagia Sophia should remain a museum or be turned into a mosque on July 2.
The UNESCO world heritage site will be reopened for worship or will continue to be used as a museum, according to the decision of the court which will deliver a written verdict within 15 days.
The court heard arguments by lawyers for a group devoted to reverting Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. The group is pressing for an annulment of the 1934 decision by the Council of Ministers that turned the historic structure into a museum.
The prosecutor on the case recommended that the court reject the demand, ar-guing that a decision on restoring the structure’s Islamic heritage was up to the government..
The 6th-century structure was the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral before it was changed into an imperial mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. In 1934, the building was turned into a museum that attracts millions of tourists each year.
The matter of Hagia Sophia’s status came up when Turkey marked the 567th anniversary of the conquest on May 29 by reading passages from the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in the Hagia Sophia.
Later, the debate over the site has turned into a domestic political row and prompted international criticism from reli-gious and political leaders worldwide.
Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, urged Turkey earlier this week to keep Hagia Sophia as a museum. Bartholomew argued that its conver-sion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”
Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amidst ornate marble and mosaic decorations.
Four minarets were added to the terracotta-hued structure with cascad-ing domes and the building was turned into an imperial mosque follow-ing the conquest in 1453.
Turkey slams Pompeo over remarks
Meanwhile, Turkey on July 1 criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his remarks on Hagia Sophia.
In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said: “We are shocked at the statement made by the U.S. State Department on Hagia Sophia.”
Turkey protects all of its cultural assets, including Hagia Sophia, without any discrimination within the framework of the tradition of tolerance from our culture and history, the statement added.
“Hagia Sophia, situated on our land is the property of Turkey, like all our cultural assets,” it said.
Any issue regarding Hagia Sophia is “our internal affair as part of Turkey’s sovereign rights,” the statement added.
Earlier, Pompeo said in a statement that the museum status should be maintained “as an exemplar of [Turkey’s] commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to en-sure it remains accessible to all.”