PM brushes aside calls for return of prayers to Hagia Sophia
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Daily News photo / Emrah GürelPrime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed demands to open the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul to prayers, despite the requests being raised by his ruling party’s deputies.
“We have our Sultanahmet Mosque just next to the Hagia Sophia. Leave the Hagia Sophia aside and fill up the Sultanahmet,” Erdoğan told the deputies at a closed-door session of a gathering of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the weekend. Deputies had asked whether the ancient building would be reopened for Muslim worship.
The Sultanahmet Mosque (1609-16) is a significant example of Ottoman architecture and is better known today as the Blue Mosque. As for the Hagia Sophia, it was first built as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica in 360. Until the year 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 republican authorities in 1935 as a museum.
Reopening the museum to prayers is a contentious issue, with both ultranationalist and fundamentalist groups launching campaigns for the transformation of the ancient building into a mosque and afterwards for it to be reopened to Muslim worshippers.
In response to a separate question from deputies on May 5, the third and last day of the AKP’s working camp in Ankara’s Kızılcahamam, Erdoğan suggested the current 15-month-long customary military service could be shortened. Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, meanwhile, argued that the service period could be shortened if the resolution process were to be successfully completed.
The prime minister, however, ruled out launching a new opportunity for paid military service. “There is no point in watering down this matter,” he said, noting that the paid military service practice had not yielded the expected results and that a similar practice was therefore not on the government’s agenda.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) yesterday recalled that on April 19, in response to a question from their party, Defense Minister Yılmaz said that they were not studying the possibility of shortening the customary military service term.
“We urge the government authorities to demonstrate seriousness and consistency. We call on them to give up playing with the psychology of citizens, particularly of youngsters who are either performing customary military service or who are getting prepared for this service,” CHP Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu said in a written statement.
Tanrıkulu noted that several statements and proposals from their party for shortening this service, which were delivered at various times, had been ignored by the government.