Srinagar: Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, on Friday ruled that Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia can be converted from a world famous museum back into a mosque.
The move is believed to be a big victory for the Islamic conservatism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to a report by an international news agency Reuters, the court said that a 1934 decision to convert what was then a mosque into the museum was unlawful. It said that despite international concerns, paving the way for its restoration as an Islamic place of worship.
“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” the Council of State said, the news agency reported.
Placing the almost 1,500-year-old building at the centre of a struggle between those who want to preserve Turkey’s secular roots and the president’s aspirations, president Erdogan had proposed restoring the UNESCO World Heritage site into a mosque.
Announcing that Hagia Sophia would be handed over to the directorate of religious affairs, a government department, which would open it up to worshipers, the president signed a presidential decree today.
Before changing it into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, the sixth-century structure was the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral. The building was turned into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic in the 20th century.
However, the United Nation’s cultural body, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has objected on the move by Turkish court.
UNESO said that the organisation must be notified of any change in the status of Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia museum, Reuters reported.
The report added that changes may have to be reviewed by its World Heritage committee, adding that Hagia Sophia was on its list of World Heritage Sites as a museum, and as such had certain commitments and legal obligations.
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