The 10th Chamber of the Council of State has announced that it has annulled the Council of Ministers Decree which was dated November 24, 1934. And they turned Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum.
Shortly after the committee announced this verdict, the Presidential Decree handing Hagia Sophia over to the Presidency of Religious Affairs. So, the Presidency of Religious Affairs is opening it to worship as a mosque. The Official Gazette, by the way, has already published the decision.
In the decree of the President published on the Official Gazette today (July 10), they made a reference to the annulment of the Council of State. The Presidency of Religious Affairs took the responsibility of Hagia Sophia. And so, the institution opened it to worship. The Council of State carried out all the procedures according to Article 35 of the Law no. 633. The rules take place on the Establishment and Duties of the Presidency of Religious Affairs.
Erdogan’s Decree on Twitter
President and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has shared his decree on Twitter. He, further, attached the note “Hayırlı olsun,” which is possible to translate as “May this has a good outcome.”
Hayırlı olsun. pic.twitter.com/MzP6nzn9Jc
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 10, 2020
The Permanent Foundations’ Association for Serving Historical Artifacts and Surroundings previously appealed to the Council of State. The council challenged the decree in a lawsuit, demanding its annulment.
The Chamber heard the statements of two parties in the hearing on July 2. Common people expected The Council of State to announce its verdict in 15 days. Accordingly, the 10th Chamber announced today (July 10) that the decree of the Council of Ministers which converted Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum shall be annulled. That being the case, this verdict can now pave the way for its conversion back into a mosque.
Reference to Settlement Deed in the Ruling
In the ruling of the Council of State, they have indicated that “Hagia Sophia was in the possession of Sultan Mehmed II’s Foundation”. Moreover, Hagia Sophia was for the use of society as a mosque.” The ruling has noted that Hagia Sophia “took place as a mosque in the title deed.”
The ruling has also indicated the following:
“As it has been concluded that it is not legally possible for Hagia Sophia to be used for a qualification other than being a mosque. Because the previous acts allocated it as per the settlement deed, or to be allocated for another purpose, the Council of Ministers Decree, which is the matter in dispute, in this case, ended its use as a mosque and converted it into a museum, is not lawful.”
Hagia Sophia served as a church for 916 years. In 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II converted it into a mosque when the empire took over İstanbul. Under the Republic of Turkey, it became a museum.
What is the controversy about?
When Erdogan entered politics a little less than three decades ago in Turkey, observers say the status of the Hagia Sophia was not particularly on his agenda. On the contrary, several times, he objected to the calls to convert it into a mosque. But his rhetoric changed in 2019 during municipal elections in Istanbul that he ended up losing.
There is also another reason why Erdogan brought up the issue before people’s concern. Erdogan brought up the subject coincided with US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Observers believe that Erdogan’s plans for the conversion of the Hagia Sophia closely connected with politics. The main idea behind his attempts is to score political points more than anything else. And perhaps to drum up political support that he has seen diminishing following his loss in Istanbul’s municipal elections last year.
We can also count another reason as in the last weeks, the mayor of Istanbul Municipality Ekrem Imamoglu purchasing Mehmed II’s portrait. As we shared here several times, losing the local election in Istanbul was a huge loss for Erdogan and Justice and Development Party. As a result of this loss, Erdogan may have wanted to use Hagia Sophia “card” as a political instrument to give a message to its supporters. Because Erdogan himself objected to the idea to turn Haghia Sophia museum into a mosque many times.
What is next for Hagia Sophia?
Local news reports suggest that Erdogan has ordered his government to hold prayers at the Hagia Sophia on July 15. They aim to commemorate the four-year anniversary of the 2016 failed coup attempt against his government.
Experts say Erdogan doesn’t need the courts to decide on the fate of the Hagia Sophia. They believe legal rulings will add legitimacy to his proposals. There has also been little opposition to these plans within Turkey. Because religious minorities do not wish to involve these discussions. They interpret those arguments around Haghia Sophia as a polarising subject.