Turkey uses the Cathedral of Córdoba to justify the change of Hagia Sophia

Ankara, Jul 14 (EFE) .- Several senior Turkish officials, historians and theologians have responded with the example of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba to respond to international criticism about the decision to reconvert the former Basilica of Saint Sophia in Istanbul, until now a museum, in a mosque.

“The Cordoba mosque in Spain, built as a mosque in the 8th century, was converted into a church in the 13th century. Is it used as a church today? Yes. Is it on the World Heritage list? Yes. What protection is important (a monument), not if it is used as a mosque or a church, “Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu said in an interview with public broadcaster TRT.

Çavusoglu thus responded to a Unesco message, which had criticized the decision to reopen Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship without consulting the committee of the international body, which registered the monument as a World Heritage Site in 1985.

Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Danistay, overturned a 1934 ministerial decision last Friday, which secularized the monument, used as a mosque since the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and categorized it as a “museum”.

On the same day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree to transfer ownership of the Ministry of Culture building to the mosque-managing body, Diyanet, and announced that it will open to prayers on July 24.

Pope Francis declared himself “sad” at the thought of the conversion of Hagia Sophia, but the Turkish historian Mehmet Özdemir replied in an interview with the Sabah newspaper that he “should also feel sad for the mosques converted to churches during Al Andalus”.

Another historian, Lütfi Seyban, recalled that Muslims cannot pray in the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, where mass is celebrated.

Many critics of Erdogan’s decision in Turkey, however, stress that the decision to turn the old Byzantine church back into a mosque is not so much a gesture against the Christian world but against the secular sector of Turkey and against the ideology of the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who signed in 1934 the secularization of the hitherto Ottoman temple.

“The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is definitely an attempt to slap anyone who still believes that Turkey is a secular country: with this act the lay system of Kemalism has been declared invalid,” writes the exiled Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan.

Others fear that this “revenge against secularism” also opens the way to annul other decisions of the first decades of the Republic.

Erdogan has insisted that the change of status is “an internal matter of a sovereign Turkey”, but has stressed that, in any case, the monument will continue to be open to everyone, regardless of religion, in line with other historical mosques from Istanbul.