Erdoğan’s Hagia Sophia conversion signals intolerance to Turkey’s minorities - priest

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to reconvert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a demonstration of conqueror mentality, which sends a wrong signal to minorities, said the head of the U.S. Greek Orthodox Church.

Ankara’s endorsement of the “mentality of the conqueror, saying that ‘it’s my conquered right to have Hagia Sophia as a mosque,’’ is sending the wrong signal to all minorities,” Archbishop Elpidophoros told Al Arabiya English.

On July 10, Erdoğan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after Turkey’s highest administrative court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

Originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.

The structure, whose architecture and artwork are world renowned, is “symbolically quite significant to all Orthodox Christians,” Robert Nelson, a professor at Yale University, told Al Arabiya. “It is my point of view that Hagia Sophia should remain a museum.”

Nelson maintains the move is set to win Erdoğan a lot of votes.

But the Turkish president’s policies have led to the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, opposition lawmaker Aykan Erdemir said. 

A June survey by Ankara-based Metropoll polling company revealed that 44 percent of Turkish people believe that Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque was done in order to shift the nation’s attention away from the economic crisis.

“The Turkish president hopes that Hagia Sophia’s conversion will create a rally-round-the-flag effect and provide him with some legitimacy,” Erdemir told Al Arabiya English.

The latest Hagia Sophia development is part of a wider trend in which Turkey’s Christian population face increased repression, Nelson said, pointing to three other famous Christian churches in Turkey which have been reconverted into mosques in recent years - the Hagia Sophia cathedral in the northwestern town of Iznik, the Hagia Sophia Church in northern province of  Trabzon, and the Church of Chora in Istanbul.

According to Elpidophoros, Erdoğan’s latest decision “indicates a dangerous path” of repressing the country’s diverse history and communities.
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