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World Politics
Reference:

Reaction of the world community to the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque

Veselov Yurii Aleksandrovich

ORCID: 0000-0003-2043-2778

Master at the Department of International Security of the Global Politics Faculty of Moscow State University

119192, Russia, g. Moscow, mikroraion Leninskie Gory, 1, stroenie 51

veseloff30@gmail.com
Other publications by this author
 

 

DOI:

10.25136/2409-8671.2022.1.33742

Review date:

24-08-2020


Publish date:

30-01-2022


Abstract: The research is a comprehensive reflection of the world community’s reaction to the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque. As a methodological base, the authors use the division of the world proposed by Samuel Phillips Huntington. Along with the analysis of international connections, the article includes discussions about the division of the world, desecularization, and the growth of authoritarianism based on the example of the modern Republic of Turkey under the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The authors give special attention to the urgent problem of a dialogue between religions - the reaction of the heads of religious institutions. It’s also noteworthy that in order to provide a comprehensive review of Mass Media, the authors use sources in 18 languages including Russian, and those translated by the author. The uniqueness of this research is determined by the absence of a relevant comprehensive reflection (as a manifestation of the reaction of the world community) of this event in the Russian scientific discourse. The main conclusion of this research is the assertion of the reappearance of Neo-Ottomanism, which, in its turn, proves the reality of the transformation of the world order from the unipolar to the multipolar one. The authors find out that Saudi Arabia and Egypt consider themselves as the key geopolitical rivals of Turkey, as these Muslim countries were among the few ones which reacted negatively to this domestic political decision. The research also shows that in general, international Mass Media have professionally covered Erdogan’s decision and outlined the rational reasons along with the religious factor: the aspiration of the ruling elite to distract the attention of the public from negative economic effects of the pandemic, and make the political in-fighting work in their favor.


Keywords:

Saint Sophia Basilica, Hagia Sophia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, islamization of Turkey, desecularization, sovereignty, interfaith conflicts, multipolar world, Christianity, Islam

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Conditions for changing the status of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul) is one of the most famous and recognizable architectural monuments of the early Middle Ages and one of the few preserved objects of Byzantine architecture. Built in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of the imperial capital of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian temple of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1453, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, it was turned into a mosque. In 1935, the secular Republic of Turkey, according to a decree of the Turkish government signed by Kemal Ataturk, established it as a museum.

By many researchers, the period of R. T. Erdogan's stay in power is characterized as revisionist in relation to the secular democratic government. Such outstanding experts as Dr. D. B. Malysheva, a well-known Turkologist V. And Nadein-Rayevsky, Professor, leading researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences L. G. Khodov, Ph.D., Associate Professor of the ISAA of Moscow State University P. V. Shlykov, Ph.D. V. A. Avatkov and others believe that the Turkish Republic is increasingly moving away from the fundamental foundations laid by the "father of the Turks" and is becoming more authoritarian and religious and even seeks to recreate the foreign policy influence and domestic political model in the spirit of the Ottoman Empire [13, p. 138],[14, p. 26],[10, p. 118],[15, p. 364],[30, p. 95-96],[31, p. 405],[1]. Therefore, it is perceived without much "shocking effect" that already in 2016 (i.e., after the reform of the republic into a presidential one, which is one of the main domestic political victories of R. T. Erdogan) during Ramadan, readings of the Koran took place in the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, which were broadcast live by the Turkish state television and radio company (TRT). Then it caused an extremely negative reaction from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[8]

On July 10, 2020, the Turkish State Council reversed the 1934 decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum and decided that this building could be used as a mosque. [66] Probably, for the most part, the adoption of such a decision was initiated by the Turkish president himself. [32],[42] On the same day, R. T. Erdogan signed a decree on the re-registration of the status of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. [61] On July 24, 2020, for the first time in 86 years, a Friday prayer was held at the Hagia Sophia Mosque, in which R. T. Erdogan himself took part. At the same time, exceptionally valuable Byzantine mosaics were covered with cloth during the prayer. [41]

Before that, R. T. Erdogan, for at least a year, declared the possibility of depriving St. Sophia of the status of a museum. However, the implementation of this promise still shocked the international community. The purpose of this article is a comprehensive reflection of the reaction of the international community, which will demonstrate rather not only the manifestation of interstate sympathies or conflicts, but the attitude of States, international and non-governmental organizations to such a manifestation of sovereignty in principle. As a structural basis, especially taking into account the religious factor in international relations, the civilizational division is taken from the historical and philosophical treatise of the famous political scientist Samuel Huntington "Clash of Civilizations". [29]

The reaction of states in which Orthodoxy has historically played a key role in the formation of national identity.

First of all, it is worth paying attention to the reaction of religious organizations of the Orthodox world and states in which Byzantine Christianity historically played a key role. Indeed, if we consider the modern Greek Republic to be the successor of the Greek Empire, then the change in status hit it the most. Greek experts note that such a decision by Turkey is not something unexpected and believe that the international community is obliged to draw certain conclusions from such an incident. They also hope that the Monument will not become a victim of this decision if they really take care of incredibly valuable works of art that are of great importance to Orthodox Christians and that have already been restored with difficulty. [81] For example, Professor of International Relations at Pantheon University Kostas Ifantis believes that the change of status is an integral consequence of the construction of a new and dangerous for the international community national revisionist ideology, which refers to the mythical imperial past and a sense of pious mission. [81] Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis remarked: "What is happening in Istanbul today is not a manifestation of strength, but a proof of weakness. They definitely don't have the power to overshadow the radiance of a World Heritage site. But they cast a shadow on universal values. That's why they demand universal condemnation. Especially for us, Greek Orthodox Christians, today St. Sophia is more than ever in our souls. It is there that our hearts beat, turning sadness into strength, composure and unity." Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said: "The nationalism demonstrated by President Erdogan brings his country back six centuries."[78] Archbishop Hieronymus II of Athens and All Greece, in response to the change in the status of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, announced the day mourning and suffering for all Orthodoxy, Christianity and all Hellenism, and on July 24 personally performed the Holy Communion of the Akathist hymn in the Athens Cathedral. [79] In addition, one of the main Greek TV channels ANT1 canceled the screening of Turkish TV series.[23] Citizens also burned Turkish flags on the streets. [3] Greece also proposed, as a retaliatory measure, to turn the Ataturk house in Thessaloniki into a museum of the Greek genocide.[83]

Cyprus' Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot, wrote on his official Twitter that Cyprus "strongly condemns Turkey's actions against Hagia Sophia in its attempt to distract the public opinion of its citizens from internal problems and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations."[70]

The Republic of Serbia did not react so violently: everything was limited to neutral news reports [28] and almost a single statement by the Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic Vladan Vukosavljevic: "If faith, which once conquered space by force, wants to displace and expel another, then everyday politics defeated the wisdom and teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad. It remains for us to believe in the final and lasting victory of the light of religious tolerance over the darkness of the passion of everyday political interests." [19]

In response to the decision of the Turkish State Council and during the first prayer, two protest actions were held in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on July 10 and 24, respectively. [21] Then the Bulgarian historian Georgi Dimov stated: "Bulgaria has been making a number of geopolitical mistakes in foreign policy for two centuries. As the heir of the Byzantine Kingdom, as the heir of the Orthodox center, Bulgaria must defend the idea of the Orthodox world." [20]

The Armenian people have a special opinion about the fate of St. Sophia. For example, Deputy of the Mejlis of the Democratic Party of Armenia Karo Paylan believes that July 10 can now be considered as "a sad day for Christians, for all those who believe in a pluralistic Turkey. Restoring the status of the mosque in Hagia Sophia will complicate the lives of Christians here and Muslims in Europe. Hagia Sophia is a symbol of our rich history. Its dome is large and would accommodate all of us." [84] This idea of the unity of two monotheistic Abrahamic religions is not new in Armenian discourse. So, shortly before the decision of the Turkish State Council, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Sahak II Mashalyan, announced that he was not against the desecularization of the temple. Mashalyan noted that the building is large enough to serve both as a place for prayer and for Christian worship at the same time: "After all, we all pray under one heavenly dome. We can also share the dome of Hagia Sophia. Even though we have different religions, don't we worship the same God?"[82] However, this point of view is not the only one in Armenia, even in the religious sphere. Thus, Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, linked the change of status with the continuation of the genocide: "... Turkey, in fact, continues to violate religious and cultural values, ignore the principles established by international law, and falsify history And where were the leaders of the Western world, politically or emotionally, when, after the Armenian Genocide, thousands of churches belonging to the Armenian people were turned into stables, cafes, mosques and other public places? Yes, the genocide continues in a different way, it is the same genocide, but the world is silent."[83] Special attention should be paid to the official position of the republic. Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia Armen Ashotyan stated that "Armenia, as the first Christian state, is obliged to respond properly to Erdogan's adventurous decision to turn a museum into a mosque." Then the politician stressed that he expects a clear position on this issue from the Armenian Foreign Ministry. [2] In fact, everything was limited to almost a single comment by the press secretary of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Anna Naghdalyan: "The assignment of the status of a museum to the Hagia Sophia Cathedral and its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List made it not a symbol of the clash of civilizations, but a symbol of cooperation and unity of mankind. It is with regret that we have to state that the latest decision of the Turkish authorities closes the page of this important symbol and mission in the history of Hagia Sophia."[33]

Araik Harutyunyan, President of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, also expressed his opinion: "By the decision to return the status of a mosque to St. Sophia, the Turkish government has confirmed its denial and xenophobic attitude towards civilizations. And every reaction of the superpowers professing Christian values on this topic is very similar to the cry of a sick and helpless person, as long as there is denial of the Armenian Genocide, the closed Armenian-Turkish border, Turkey's genocidal actions in the Middle East." [83]

The reaction of the Georgian media can be called the mildest towards Turkey. The day before the decree was signed on July 10 , the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church stated: "We believe that if Hagia Sophia remains a neutral space, it will be a wise decision." At the same time, the Georgian Orthodox Church assures that they respect the sovereignty of Turkey. The Patriarchate hopes that such an appeal to a "friendly state" will be perceived not as interference in its internal affairs, but as voicing the position of one of the oldest Orthodox churches and expressing its heartache. [18] Neither the Georgian media nor state structures commented on the further development of events.

It is especially important to analyze the Russian position on this issue. Moscow historically calls itself the third Rome, and Russia has always put itself in the leaders of Orthodox Christianity. Such an imperial aspiration was conditioned not only by power and geopolitics, but also by the actual succession of a significant part of the Byzantine culture, as well as by the dynastic marriage of Ivan III with a representative of the last dynasty, Sophia Palaiologos. The most quoted reaction (and translated into many languages) on the issue under study among all foreign media is the statement of the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill: "The threat to St. Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilization" [5],[25],[26],[56],[62],[70],[80],[85] This statement complements the official statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church: "It (the decision, approx. the author) hurts the religious feelings of millions of Christians around the world, which can lead to a violation of the interreligious balance and mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims not only in Turkey itself, but also in other places ... such a joyless event for the Holy Orthodox Church meets the Orthodox world today divided, which was a direct consequence of the anti-canonical legalization of the schism in Ukraine and that it has weakened our ability to jointly confront new spiritual threats and civilizational challenges." [27] The official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, M. V. Zakharova, also commented on this event on July 13: "We hope that the management of the Hagia Sophia, which until recently had the status of a museum and is a shrine for all Christianity, a heritage of world culture and Eurasian civilization, will fully comply with the status of a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. We expect that any actions regarding this unique monument will take into account its exceptional importance for believers around the world."[7] However, the Russian Federation does have its own opinion about such actions of the Turkish Republic. Unlike, for example, the United States, the Russian Federation seeks to respect the ideas of national sovereignty more than following universalist principles. This is reflected in a statement by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin: "Turkey's decision to make a mosque out of Hagia Sophia is an internal matter of the country, in which no one should interfere." [4] In the modern agenda, this is almost a unique demonstration of the complete absence of hypocrisy regarding such fundamental topics as sovereignty. The press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov also found the positive aspects of such a decision: "There were quite expensive tickets to Hagia Sophia. And now there will be no tickets, the entrance will be free." Peskov does not believe that the change in the status of St. Sophia will greatly affect relations between Russia and Turkey. This is an internal matter of Ankara, but Moscow hopes that Hagia Sophia will remain a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[9]

It is worth noting the reaction of Ukraine. On July 10, exactly on the day of signing the decree, President Vladimir Zelensky met with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Zelensky expressed warm words of gratitude to the Republic of Turkey, but never raised the issue of changing the status of Hagia Sophia. The President of Ukraine did not touch on this topic in the future, despite the fact that Ukrainians called on him to comment on this situation. [17] In general, Ukraine is very friendly towards Turkey, which explains the almost zero reaction of the Ukrainian media and representatives of the state. However, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine did not stand aside. First, an appeal was published by an initiative group of clergy and believers of this church regarding the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This appeal was supported by almost two hundred representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. [24] Later, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epiphanius expressed his position, [22] who agreed with the concern of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople that such a decision would turn millions of Christians around the world against Islam.

Reaction of the Euro-Atlantic Community

In a statement, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on Turkey to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site "as an example of its commitment to respect the religious traditions and diverse history that have contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure its accessibility to all."[68] He also indicated: "The United States views the change in the status of Hagia Sophia as a decrease the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability-so rare in the modern world - to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between different religious traditions and cultures."[68] In his Twitter, Vice President Mike Pence also wrote: "America will stand firmly together with the Greek Orthodox Church and call for the Hagia Sophia to remain an accessible source of inspiration and reflection for every person of any faith." American experts also have a common position with their colleagues from most of the dismantled countries: "this step by Erdogan may be aimed at consolidating his voters, since the country It deals with a shrinking economy and growing unemployment." In turn, they emphasize that there was also a factor of tension in Turkish-Greek relations, including the long-standing dispute over Cyprus and migrants crossing the border between the countries. [68] "We are disappointed by the Turkish government's decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia," State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. [44] Also, according to the American media, Donald Trump expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with such an event. Indeed, the United States, which after the collapse of the USSR was considered the only global superpower in the world, can do nothing with such a manifestation of national sovereignty, but can only declare its disappointment and strong discontent. Especially considering that Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the United States from imposing sanctions against Turkey, including for undesirable military actions in Syria. However, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo refused to clarify whether Washington is considering the possibility of imposing sanctions on Ankara in connection with these actions. [65]

International organizations of the UN and UNESCO were among the first to react to the change in the status of Hagia Sophia. Responding to this decision, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay called the building "an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to the interaction between Europe and Asia over the centuries." On the day of signing the decree, UNESCO recalled that the State on whose territory the World Cultural Heritage site is located, including Turkey, which is a member of this organization, is obliged to ensure the inviolability of the object so that no changes are made to the outstanding universal value of the property. [73] It should be noted here that, of course, international organizations can be blamed for inaction and "shaking the air", but probably if it were not for them, the priceless mosaics and elements of the remaining Byzantine culture could be exposed to greater danger than "hanging". This is evidenced by the very historical experience of the same object.

Also the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, representing more than 500 million Christian, who, according to Interim Secretary General Ioan Saus, is experiencing "grief and anxiety," said: "By deciding to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, you have turned this positive sign of Turkey's openness into a sign of alienation and division." [49]

The head of the Catholic Church, the Great Pontiff Pope Francis, said that he was "very saddened" by Turkey's decision: "My thoughts are about Istanbul. I am thinking of Saint Sophia, and it hurts me very much."[60] These words, according to strict Vatican etiquette, are tantamount to a protest. The secular ruler of parliamentary Italy, Giuseppe Conte, according to the accusations of the Italian media, "pretended that nothing had happened", discussing with R. T. Erdogan both Libya, the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, and the fight against Covid-19. This, according to Italian experts, speaks of "indulging the interests" of the so-called "Muhammad III". [64]

France, one of the fundamental states of the European Union, has provided a more complete, geopolitical response. Nicolas Bay, a French member of the European Parliament, vice-president of the Identity and Democracy group, described the change in the status of the museum and the prayer held in it as "an act of incredible violence." N. Bay accuses Turkey of organizing a real migration attack on the Greek border, blackmail. According to the statements of the French deputy, "... He (Erdogan, approx. the author) is at war with Europe. He does not even hide his dream of restoring the Ottoman Empire or Islamizing our continent."[58] According to N. Bay, all the recent actions of Turkey have shown that all talks on the integration of this state with the European Union should be stopped. French politicians also took the news about the change in the status of Hagia Sophia as evidence of the weakness of the West in general, the European Space and France in particular. France "regrets" Turkey's decision [72], and the European Union considers it "regrettable" [43]. "Undoubtedly, Erdogan should tremble." - Laurence Trochu, president of Sens commun and adviser to the department of Yvelines, member of the political bureau of Les R?publicains and Sebastian Meran, senator of Les R?publicains from Val d'Oise, are ironic.[63] Politicians are sure that France is still unable to resist the development of cultural Islam, which seeks to control the way of life and it is developing on the periphery of the terrorist jihad. For example, the French law of 1905 on the separation of church and state was intended only to protect political power from the influence of the church. However, now "it has turned into a law of emptiness that has emptied France of all Christian civilizational and cultural substratum."[63] "Methods such as dialogue, cohabitation, tolerance and other empty concepts such as "Values of the Republic" are ineffective in countering the growth of political and cultural Islam, whether at home in "lost territories republic" or diplomacy in the face of the Islamic excesses of Turkey."[63] The revision of the status of Hagia Sophia can mean not only an insult to the monument of global significance, but also an action that will undoubtedly have a negative impact on Turkey's relations with the EU, USA, Greece, Russia and UNESCO. [67]

Spanish-speaking Catholics also had special concerns. The Institute of Security and Culture in Madrid, a non-profit association that promotes the prevention of violent extremism and research in the field of security and defense, published a special report by Professor of International Relations Carlos Echeverria "From Istanbul to Cordoba: Symbols of Islamism". [38] In this report, the author warns that the transformation of the ancient Byzantine basilica into a mosque marked "another step in the unstoppable and accelerated process of Islamization of the republican and secular state inherited by Erdogan in 2002." [38, p. 7] According to Echeverria, the Turkish president himself launched this process in 1997 when he said: "believers are our soldiers; mosques are our posters; domes are our helmets; and minarets are bayonets to the sky." [38, p. 8] "The transformation of St. Sophia into a mosque is a direct torpedo along the waterline of interreligious balance, not only in the face of Catholicism, but, above all, by in relation to the Orthodox Church, both against Greece and to a lesser extent against Russia. The context in which the mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba has again found itself in the center of artificial debates promoted by those who want to free up this space for Islam," the conclusion says.[38, p. 21] It is also noteworthy that this report was published a day after a diplomatic clash between Spanish Foreign Minister Arancea Gonzalez Laia and her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu during a press conference dedicated to the "reconversion" of the ancient Byzantine basilica. "It is important for Spain to preserve the spirit of this monument, which is a common home for Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Muslims and represents the heritage of humanity," Gonzalez Laia said. [40] In response, the Turkish Foreign Minister made it clear that, although Hagia Sophia can be called a "common home" in the spiritual sense, it is "impossible" to open it for other religious rites other than Muslim. [40]

Alexander Schallenberg, the Foreign Minister of Austria, a long-time historical opponent of Turkey, also confirmed Austria's position on ending negotiations with the country on EU membership: "I believe that the European Union should draw a clear line here The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque was only the last link in the chain of provocations," Schallenberg stressed.[69] Due to the mass arrests of government critics after the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, negotiations with the EU have already been suspended. This comment was made by A. Schallenberg at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. Many colleagues agreed with the statement of the representative of Austria: "Relations with Turkey were developing in the wrong direction," Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn added. [69] EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell, in turn, called relations with Turkey "not particularly good." [69]

Some representatives of the German authorities also believe that the transformation of the museum into a mosque was "an act of aggression by Erdogan." "This is a clear declaration of war against his internal opponents and those who think differently in Turkey, as well as a declaration of war against Turkey's neighboring states," said German politician of Turkish origin from the Die Linke party, Bundestag deputy Sevim Dagdelen. [50] In her opinion, "Erdogan's goal is to turn the coronation church of the Byzantine emperors into the pearl of his power. This day is a manifesto of radical Islamism - the basis of Erdogan's political power, which is not taken seriously and is downplayed in the Western world," she said. [50] One of the most respected German newspapers Die Zeit called Erdogan's decision "a gesture of cultural war".[36] German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described this event quite briefly and without much evaluation: "We cannot understand this decision." [47] Also X. Maas told the Dusseldorf Rheinische Post and the Bonn General-Anzeiger that this transformation "is not a contribution to international understanding." [47] Bundestag Vice-President Claudia Roth (Green Party) called the transformation a "challenge to secular Turkey" that "divides society" and tries to divert attention from the economic and coronary crisis and corruption. [47]

It is characteristic that neither British Prime Minister Boris Johnson nor British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab reacted in any way to the change in the status of Hagia Sophia, although a petition was sent to D. Raab from the British National Federation of Cypriots with an appeal to take a "firm and principled position" against the "divisive, tragic and wrong" decision to turn the Cathedral Saint Sophia from the museum to the mosque. [45] It is also noteworthy that on July 10, the day of the signing of the Turkish decree, Foreign Minister D. Raab published a message on his official Twitter account about the Bishop of Truro's independent review of the persecution of Christians. Then D. Raab stressed that the UK is working with partners around the world to stand up for persecuted groups and minorities. [37]

Special attention should be paid to Israel, which, because of Judaism, cannot be considered either a Christian or an Islamic civilization. However, of course, the sympathies and destinies of Jews have long been linked with the Christian world (and Israel is also one of the priority allies outside NATO). The situation is aggravated by the special status of Jerusalem, the city of three religions. Immediately after the change of the status of Hagia Sophia, the Israeli media also identified their internal political problem: "Judging by what is happening in our courtyard, on the Temple Mount, Islamic control over it actually prevents free access to this place." [86] Israel now sees Turkey as the primary threat to the flimsy balance on the Temple Mount and after July 10, the country has more reasons to worry: "Having completed the religious revolution in Turkey and almost completely erased the legacy (cursed by him [86], approx. author) Atat?rk, Erdogan fulfilled a significant part of his New Ottoman Vision. Islam has once again become an integral part of the country and its symbol, and Turkey is once again reaching out to the territories that were once part of the empire. This will not solve domestic economic problems, but it will strengthen sympathy for the president among his electorate." [87]

This decision also received a reaction not only from State and religious organizations, but also from some non-governmental organizations. For example, in August 2021, a grandiose scientific event was to take place in Istanbul - the World Congress of Byzantine Studies, which takes place every five years in different countries and usually gathers up to five thousand specialists who discuss the problems of history, culture and art of the Byzantine world in different sections. Turkey has been fighting for the right to hold the Congress for a long time. However, due to the change in the status of the Cathedral, as well as the coronavirus epidemic, it was decided that the Congress should be postponed until 2022 and that it would no longer be held in Istanbul. [53]

Reflection of the "Turkish solution" in the world of Islam

Of particular interest is the reaction of Turkey's main rival for leadership in the world of Sunni Islam the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The well-known Saudi edition of the Saudi Gazette stated: "What good is it for Muslims all over the world if the Hagia Sophia turns into a mosque? Will Erdogan be happy if the Jews turn the Dome of the Rock into a synagogue or turn mosques in Haifa, Jaffa, Acre and Jerusalem in Palestine into churches or turn the Church of the Holy Sepulchre into a mosque? Will he be OK if Europe turns our mosques into temples and churches? This is a serious problem if it escalates But how can he rob the Roman World Heritage, which has found a place in the UNESCO Heritage list?.. Today we live in a civilized world that is struggling with backwardness, barbarism, racism and the exploitation of religions and peoples for political gain."[46] As a reaction to the change in the status of Hagia Sophia, Riyadh cited the popular saying "did you take part in the looting of Istanbul?" referring to robberies and murders, which the population of the city was subjected to at the hands of the Ottoman army after it was conquered by Mehmed II. [34] Talal Al-Torifi, a wellknown Saudi academic and media expert, said with characteristic metaphoricity: "As they say, "The leopard does not change its spots," no matter how much time has passed. What the current Turkish government is doing under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.. is a reflection of old Ottoman habits rooted either in imperial dreams or in the intention to economically deplete the states that have fallen under the rule of the Turkish Republic. It does this by using the ideology of extremist groups and provoking intra-Arab conflicts, causing religious emotions that provoke violence. The true purpose of this step (changing the status of Hagia Sophia, approx. The author's idea was to attract extremist Muslims to his side by emphasizing an image that stirs their emotions, but hides a reality far from the Islamic spirit."[34] "What the Prophet wrote has become a tradition and a law that all Muslims must follow, live together with others, respecting them religious rituals, places of worship and religious feelings."[34]

Among the Arab countries, there were states that strongly condemned the decision of R.T. Erdogan. Nura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth of the UAE and Chairman of the National Committee for Education, Culture and Science, said that Hagia Sophia is a common heritage of mankind: "The monument should not be misused or altered in such a way as to affect the human essence. This is especially true for the sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are of exceptional international value and are the common heritage of all peoples and cultures Hagia Sophia is an important example of interaction and dialogue between Asia and Europe and should remain a witness to a harmonious human history," she stressed. [71]

The Palestinian group Hamas welcomed the verdict allowing the opening of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. "The opening of Hagia Sophia to prayer is a proud moment for all Muslims," said Rafat Murra, head of the Hamas International Press Bureau. Murra also stressed that this decision falls under the sovereign rights of Turkey. [74]

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, was unsurprisingly pleased with the opening of the new mosque: "Hagia Sophia has been a Turkish mosque and a World Heritage Site since 1453. The decision to use it as a mosque, previously visited as a museum, is sound and pleasant," Prime Minister Yersin Tatar said. [74]

The Egyptian press erupted in condemnation of the Turkish president's decision: "We have repeatedly confirmed with documents and evidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use fatwas as a weapon to establish tyranny inside the country in the name of religion and justify his ambitions abroad in the name of the alleged caliphate."[88] - the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta is an Islamic advisory, judicial and governmental body established as a center for Islam and Islamic legal studies in Egypt. Already in July 2020, the authority supplemented its accusations, comparing the return of Hagia Sophia to the status of a museum with occupation. [39] Also, probably as a response to the actions of R.T. Erdogan, on July 21, the Egyptian government announced that it was allocating 40 million Egyptian pounds ($2.5 million) for the restoration of St. Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai province, one of the oldest monasteries in the world and a Christian attraction, in order to turn the monastery into a tourist destination. [35] Pro-government TV presenter Ahmad Musa accused Erdogan of distorting the image and teachings of Islam. [35] The chairman of the Egyptian Heritage Preservation organization Maged Al-Raheb also found benefits for Egypt: "Egypt will certainly benefit from the cessation of religious tourism in Turkey as a result of sarcastic comments against [Ankara] for disrespecting Christian monuments and changing the identity of a monument registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List." He concluded: "religious tourism will move from Turkey to Egypt, which has shown the world that it respects heritage and monuments, especially Christian ones such as St. Catherine's Church, Coptic monuments and churches on the Holy Family Trail."[35]

Shiite Iran, a long-time historical rival of Turkey, supported changing the status of the monument. Ali Ekburn, adviser to the religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on international relations, said that Hagia Sophia has been a mosque for almost 500 years and "will remain a mosque until the apocalypse." [48] The Secretary General of the Islamic Renaissance of Iran Velayeti described the incident as "a great and historic decision The Turkish people are grateful to President Erdogan for this." [48] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran officially congratulated Turkey on the return of the status of a mosque to the cult monument. "The decision on the status of Hagia Sophia is an internal matter of Turkey," said ministry spokesman Said Abbas Mousavi. [55]

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the speaker of the State Assembly of Pakistan's largest province of Punjab, called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "courageous" for addressing the Hagia Sophia. "This happened not only in accordance with the wishes of the people of Turkey, but also of the entire Muslim world," Elahi said. [54]

Sheikh Akram Tsabari was one of the first to congratulate Turkey on the case of Hagia Sophia, under whose spiritual supervision most of the buildings of Islam in the Holy Land are located: "To His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This mosque has been restored and its sanctity has been restored by the wise and just decision of President Erdogan, may Allah protect it."[86]

On the other hand, Lebanese Foreign Minister Jabran Basil protested this move: "Christianity and Islam. Today, the transformation of the building into a mosque has become a falsification of history and an excellent reason for Israel to turn the Al-Aqsa Mosque into a full-fledged temple." [86]

In a telephone conversation, Chairman of the Religious Council of the Caucasus Allahshukur Pashazade congratulated Ali Erbash (head of the Turkish Presidium for Religious Affairs) on the change in the status of the monument. [59]

The head of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Rateb Jneida, also expressed his support for this decision. [59]

"The Turkish Republic under Erdogan's leadership is a rising star and an irreplaceable source of hope for Muslims and the oppressed," Shakir Fetahu, Deputy chairman of the Islamic Religious Union of the Republic of Macedonia, said in his letter. [59]

In a letter on behalf of the Council of Religious Communities of Lithuanian Muslims, Lithuanian Mufti Alexandras Beganskas stated: "We believe that this blessed mosque, which is a symbol of monotheism, will embrace all mankind regardless of religion, language, race and sect under the chairmanship of Turkey on religious issues."[59]

Russia is a multinational, multi-confessional country, so it is also worth paying attention to the reaction of Russian Muslims. "Representatives of the Muslim community of the North Caucasus share the satisfaction of the faithful of Turkey in connection with the return of Hagia Sophia to the status of a mosque," said Mufti of North Ossetia Khajimurat Gatsalov.[6]

Azerbaijan has long been very friendly towards Turkey. But even this sympathy did not prevent the society from splitting in two, and many condemned the decision to turn the museum into a mosque. For example, the famous Azerbaijani historian Altai Geyushov stated: "You can even declare Hagia Sophia a mosque four times - it's useless. It was built as the most famous Orthodox church in the world By turning the temple into a mosque once again, it is impossible to change the fact of the construction of Hagia Sophia as an Orthodox church. But such a step was a powerful blow to the authority of Turkey and Islam around the world. And the language of the opponents has become even longer." [11] Shortly before the first Friday prayer in Hagia Sophia, Turkish media reported that R. T. Erdogan invited Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and leaders of some other Muslim countries to take part. However, at the time of the broadcast of the prayer itself, Turkish channels did not report anything about it, and further news reports emphasized only the presence of the Turkish president. [16] Apparently, the President of Azerbaijan either did not want to attend the event, or was too busy due to the growing wave of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

The Republic of Kazakhstan did not comment on this decision at the official level, the Kazakh media limited themselves to news reports. Only the editor-in-chief of the Kazakh newspaper Qazaq, Zhasulan Maulenovich, recalled that initially the historical object did not belong to the Turks. However, "earlier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly stated that if the United States considers the Golan Heights, Jerusalem as part of Israel and restricts the rights of the Palestinians, they will turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque ... Apparently, the Turkish president will keep his word. According to the law, the change of the status of Hagia Sophia is an internal matter of the Turks, and other countries have no right to interfere in this." [12]

Indonesian media said that as of August 14, 2020, at least 15 Indonesian citizens had already visited Hagia Sophia after the building was put into operation as a mosque on July 24. "They were fascinated by the splendor of the building, which is at least 1400 years old."[75]

According to the rector of the Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII) Komaruddin Hidayat, the change in the status of the Hagia Sophia - turning into a mosque is not related to the legitimacy of Islamic influence in Turkey and even in the region. "This is not just the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which means the victory of Islam. In the Middle East, as a rule, there is a leader of a country who wants to act as a leader of the world Muslim community. This step may be a step for Turkey to show that it is the leader of the Muslim world," he said.[57]

Reaction of the leading Asian countries

India is a true multi-confessional giant of South Asia. Many Indian media reacted particularly sharply to the change in the status of Hagia Sophia: "... Countries such as the United States, France, Russia, Cyprus and Greece have sharply criticized this decision. However, this list does not include India. Although, the Turkish president has never missed an opportunity to criticize India, questioning its secular powers." "Erdogan's remarks do not reflect either an understanding of history or the behavior of diplomacy... They distort the events of the past in order to promote a narrow-minded view of the present, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. [51] The remarks of the Indian Foreign Ministry are relevant even now in the context of the controversy surrounding the Hagia Sophia. So, the decision to turn this monument into a mosque is really a "distortion of the past", and Erdogan promotes his "narrow-minded view of the present" by this. [77] Some media directly called Erdogan's initiative a failure: "The unsuccessful decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Turkey to revoke the status of the Hagia Sophia Museum and turn it back into a mosque was rightly criticized around the world. But governments such as the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which cannot address and solve current problems, rely on the past and, in the name of correcting historical mistakes, are proud of divisive actions."[51] The silence of the Indian government can be interpreted in two ways: it will not comment on "internal affairs", as it risks opening its own its own internal problems; it would not want to go against its Muslim population by questioning the creation of a mosque in Turkey. [52]

In turn, Chinese analysts believe that the attitude to the positioning of the Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the flywheels for determining whether Turkey will continue to adhere to secularization or turn to Islamization. (headquarters of Chen Huihui) [89],[90] According to Chinese experts, "The disputes around the Hagia Sophia reflect mainly historical changes and contradictions in the identity and positioning of the modern Turkish nation, manipulation of historical memory by the changed real Turkish politics and tricks used by crisis-ridden politicians to obtain capital. It is also a common trick of Western cultural imperialism to constantly search for materials and create "others"."[91]

Conclusion

No Western state could really react to the manifestation of Turkish sovereignty, showing only regret. For example, not so long later, the leading political groups of the European Parliament declared the President of the Republic of Belarus A. G. Lukashenko "persona non grata", accusing him of rigging the election results and ill-treatment of protesters. [76] The actions of R. T. Erdogan, in fact, did not receive such a response. Perhaps this reality corresponds to what was previously called multipolarity? Perhaps the Turkish state turns out to be strong and sovereign enough that a national-level decision does not have special foreign policy consequences due to the lack of sufficient power from the global leader. The continuation of such a policy of converting Christian shrines to mosques is also indicative. Thus, the Church of Christ the Savior in the Fields (also known as the Monastery of Hora), which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Istanbul, was also turned into a mosque in August 2020, and permission for this was formally issued at the end of 2019 by the State Council of Turkey. It may also be that this decision of R. T. Erdogan does not represent such a weighty importance for the Western community, and "strong statements" may be due to a certain influence of the Greek diasporas and various religious groups, which is now being listened to less and less. Also, the analysis of the reaction of the Eastern countries showed that India remains a geopolitically weak entity, due to the lack of internal consolidation and multicultural diversity. China, in turn, is relatively indifferent to the interfaith conflicts of Christians and Muslims. The reaction of Egypt and Saudi Arabia has once again revealed them as Turkey's main geopolitical rivals in the Middle East, as well as the fact that these two countries are still ready to play by the rules of the Western world. Most countries also showed unity in characterizing Turkey as a country fleeing from secularism and the ideals of universalism.



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