Hagia Sophia, the former Greek Orthodox patriarchal cathedral in Istanbul, may be opened to regular Islamic prayer, according to Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist for Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered his ruling party’s officials to complete work on the planning for the possible measure, Selvi said on Friday, citing a decision made at a meeting of party leaders chaired by Erdoğan.
Erdoğan made the decision due to frustration at frequent Greek objections to Muslims worshipping at the historic site, now a museum, Selvi said. The sovereign rights of Turkey are being unacceptably challenged, the government believes, according to the columnist.
Prayers were last held at the Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul’s historic centre, late last month for the Conquest of Istanbul Day. Earlier in May, Fahrettin Altun, Erdoğan’s communications director, urged Turks supporting the building’s transformation to be patient a little longer.
Hagia Sophia, originally built as a cathedral of the Eastern Roman Empire in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453. It was made a museum in 1935.
Erdoğan has repeatedly suggested turning the UNESCO World Heritage Site into a mosque to fulfil a long-standing demand by Turkey’s Islamists.
The possible measure comes at a time of increased political and military tensions between Turkey and Greece over refugees and territorial rights in the Aegean Sea and around the ethnically divided island of Cyprus, where Turkey has been drilling for hydrocarbons.
Late on Thursday, tensions escalated at the northwestern land border between Greece and Turkey, where, according to the Greek City Times, illegal immigrants were seen arriving by bus to nearby border towns.