Tag Archives: Hagia Sophia

Erdogan visits Hagia Sophia

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a surprise visit to Hagia Sophia site just days before the first Muslim prayers will be held at the Istanbul historic building since it was reconverted to a mosque last week.

In a brief visit Erdogan took stock of the conversion work, the president’s office said on Sunday (July 19), providing images showing scaffolding inside the building.

The Diyanet, the country’s religious authority, said Christian fresco would be covered with curtain and unlit “through appropriate means during prayer times”.

Authorities said last week the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first prayers are held.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, President’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains.

The other ther mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not pose an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not located in the direction of Qiblah, he added, however spokesperson did not say whether they would remain uncovered at all times.

Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, authorities have said.

It remains unknown whether Erdogan planned to be among some 500 worshippers set to attend Friday prayers.

Turkey’s top court paved the way for the conversion in a decision to revoke the edifice’s museum status conferred nearly a century ago in 1935.

EU-Turkey relations «under strain»

«…On Turkey we had a long and interesting debate. At the end of it, I presented my conclusions, which were approved by the Council members. It is my conclusions that will conduct and drive my future actions as High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission » said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrel during the press-conference after the Council of the Foreign affairs ministers.

«We reiterated that we see Turkey as an important country for the European Union with whom we would [wish] to see our relations strengthened and developing. This should be done in respect of EU values, principles and interests.

«There was a consensus among Member States that the EU-Turkey relations are currently under continuous strain. There are worrying developments, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean and regarding Libya that affect directly our interests. Thus, several serious issues must be addressed by Turkey in order to change the current confrontational dynamic and create an environment of trust with Turkey, which everybody wishes.

«But, we stress also that Turkey’s unilateral actions, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, which run counter to EU interests, to the sovereign rights of EU Member States and to international law, must come to an end.

«We recalled the previous Conclusions of the Council of 15 July 2019 on illegal Turkish drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus and the 15 May 2020 Statement on the Eastern Mediterranean and reiterated that the situation that we were confronted [with] at the EU borders in early March 2020 must not be repeated.

«We also agreed to call on Turkey to contribute actively to a political solution in Libya and to respect the commitments it has taken in the framework of the Berlin process, including the United Nations arms embargo.

«We are doing our part – the European Member States are doing their part, in particular through Operation Irini, which provides a key contribution to ensure the respect of the arms embargo by all actors. We will consider ways to ensure the full effectiveness of the operation, with the aim of preventing escalation on the ground.

«An important issue was about Hagia Sophia. The Council has condemned the Turkish decision to convert such an emblematic monument as Hagia Sophia back to a mosque. This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, promote renewed divisions between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialogue and cooperation. There was broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.

«All in all, the final conclusion is that there was clearly a broad support for me to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relations between Turkey and the European Union.

«Also, I will prepare options on further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions, including in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the meantime, work will also continue on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus.

«I agreed to report back to the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers at the informal meeting at the end of August, which will also have Turkey on its agenda.

Sanctions are always an instrument to achieve a goal, but they are not a policy in themselves. The Council [of Foreign Affairs] considered that there are Council conclusions on illegal Turkish drillings and, at the same time, expressed their will to defuse tensions and make clear that Member States’ sovereignty and sovereignty rights should be respected in accordance with these Council conclusions and international law.

One thing is dialogue and another thing are negotiations. The Council expressed a broad support –I want to be very much precise with the wording I am going to use- to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relationship. It is a way of offering to continue exploring ways of reaching understandings.

But, at the same time, the Council has also asked that options have to be prepared on measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing. For sure, there are Council conclusions and on the implementation of these Council conclusions technical work will continue at the technical level on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus”.

Responding to the questions of the international press Josep Borrell added: “We do not want to anticipate a situation in which we could have an increase of tensions. The wording I used is absolutely clear and it is a general answer to all these kind of questions. We are going to explore further paths that could contribute to lower tensions. For sure drillings in Greek waters disputed by Turkey would be something that could increase tensions. At the same time, we will prepare options and further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges that we are facing as a result of Turkey’s actions.

Borrell «regrets» Hagia Sophia transformation

«Hagia Sophia has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value. Turkey has developed a well-established tradition of cultural conservation as well as a recognised tradition of intellectual and cultural openness. The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey’s landmark decisions and President Erdoğan‘s decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency, is regrettable. As a founding member of the Alliance of Civilisations, Turkey has committed to the promotion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and to fostering of tolerance and co-existence» reads the text of the declaration of the top EU diplomat Josep Borrell.

Unlike the French Minister of Foreign Affaris Jean-Yves Le Drian, Borrell continues to name the Christian baslilque by its Turkish name «Hagia Sophia» while French diiplomacy is refering to the site under its original name «Saint Sophia». The EU diplomacy position also differs, while pointing to universal, historic, and cultural value, omitting the religious symbolism of the basilique for Orthodx Chrisitanity.

Orthodox cleric criticises Hagia Sophia Islamisation

Transformation of the Istanbul Hagia Sophia historic monument from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable”, a senior official in the Russian Orthodox Church said on July 4.

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sixth century building, the Christian Byzantine emblematic consturciton, which became one of most visited world monuments.

“We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said on state television, reported the Interfax news agency.

“We live in a multipolar world, we live in a multi-confessional world and we need to respect the feelings of believers.”

Hilarion said the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the reason for Hagia Sophia’s transformation and that they believed domestic politics was behind the move.

“We believe that in the current conditions this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” the cleric concluded.

A Turkish court earlier this week heard a case aimed at transfering the building back into a mosque and will announce its verdict mid-July.

The court case, brought by an NGO, disputes the legality of a decision in 1934, in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to convert Hagia Sophia – known in Turkish as Ayasofya – from a mosque into a museum.

However the revolutionary proposal of NGO, backed by President Erdogan, has been criticised by other religious and political leaders.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

Erdogan has assessed the foreign criticism over the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.

Russian meida reported that the first symbolic Muslim service could take place mid-July.