Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally converted Istanbul's historic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque despite strong objection from the UNESCO. The first prayers will be held on July 24, announced Erdogan, Times Now News reported.
The centuries-old structure, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was originally a cathedral in the Byzantine Empire before it was turned into a mosque in 1453 when Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II's Ottoman forces. In the 1930s, however, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, shut down the mosque and turned it into a museum in an attempt to make the country more secular.
Turkey's Council of State had declared in its ruling that the conversion of the Hagia Sophia from a mosque into the museum by the country's founder was illegal. An hour after the court's verdict was announced; Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an order stating the Hagia Sophia was open to Muslim worship. The order read: "The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque…..to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship."
On Friday (July 10), the Council of State had unanimously cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision concerning the status of the monument and stated that the Hagia Sophia had been registered as a mosque in its property deeds.
Shortly after the court order, Hagia Sophia's verified social media pages that had referred to the structure as a "museum" were taken down.
The Church in Russia, home to the world's largest Orthodox Christian community, immediately expressed regret that the Turkish court had not taken its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia.
Vladimir Legoida, the spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, said, "The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard…. Today's court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored."
Greece Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said the ruling "absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice" in Turkey and said the move was an "open provocation to the civilised world".