The Turkish Government’s Last Card: Hagia Sophia
When converting the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque was added to the agenda of the Turkish government, we worried that this would be a sign of the governmental system being converted into a religious system. More precisely, if Hagia Sophia were opened for worship, one of the symbols of the secular system would be demolished, and the Turkish republic would lose one of its secular footholds that has held since Hagia Sophia was converted from a mosque to a museum in 1934.
The opinion of law experts is that the annulment of a certain judgment made in the past by using the State Council as a stooge is unlawful. The means and extraordinary speed of the decision of the State Council suggests that the constitution of Turkey holds no power anymore. This decision, which will lead to a new division and deeper crack in society, at a time when Turkey is already going through a difficult period in terms of both internal and external issues, was made without the existence of social demand, and is completely political.
As a matter of fact, the number of mosques in Istanbul is much higher than what the the people require for worship. The government is trying to create an artificial tension, using religion to meet the demands of their supportive religious cults. In an environment where the fierce criminals are released by the government, where the journalists and intellectuals are silenced and imprisoned, where law societies and associations struggling for the independence of the judiciary are turned into justice beggars on the streets, where people commit suicide due to financial difficulties, where liberties are restricted and traumatic problems are experienced in every aspect of social life, turning Hagia Sophia — and its universal and cultural heritage — into a mosque points to the desperation of a political power that leaves all these socioeconomic problems unresolved.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, announced a written statement, sharing her serious concerns with the Ambassador of Turkey to UNESCO:
This decision announced today raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property’s universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of any such modifications, which, if necessary, are then examined by the World Heritage Committee.These concerns were shared with the Republic of Turkey in several letters, and again yesterday evening with the representative of the Turkish Delegation to UNESCO. It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior notice.
Any intervention to the Hagia Sophia Museum is an open attack not only on the site’s historical value, but also on the principle of secularism. When the opening of the Hagia Sophia to worship became an issue in the past, none other than Tayyip Erdoğan said “First fill Sultan Ahmet Mosque, then we can look further. They are talking about converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This folk will never allow it, as long as I stay alive.” He is now willing to destroy a valuable cultural heritage, for the sake of collecting votes.
This path taken with concerns of political interest has no way out. Fundamentalists who produce new reasons to gain supporters and close the ranks in the “holy war” against secularism are swimming against the flow, and are in fact headed for their own fall. Those who attempt to take this road of religious uniformity are doomed to fail, and will have to hide their faces from future generations.
Our very greatest need is a state of law, in which human rights are under legal protection. The basis for this lies in being a secular and social state of law, as stated in Turkey’s constitution.
In the 21st century, it is tragicomical to applaud the decision of converting Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque, acting as if secularism has been overrun and “the infidels” have been defeated. This applause points to a deceived folk, and is only the sound of the footsteps of an incurable defeat.