Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday changing the status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox cathedral which is a now a museum and World Heritage Site, was up to Turkey and Greece had no say in the matter, Cumhuriyet reported.
Turkey’s Council of State, a top court, will decide on July 2 whether the site can be turned into a mosque, Erdogan said in a televised interview with state-run TRT television.
“Regarding Hagia Sophia, they (Greece) say do not turn the site into a mosque. Do you govern Turkey? If such a step is to be taken, relevant authorities of the decision are obvious. The Council of State takes a decision, and necessary steps will be taken accordingly,” Erdoğan said.
The Hagia Sophia served as the centre of the Greek Orthodox church for more than 900 years before it was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular founder of modern Turkey, had the giant building turned into a museum in 1935. But Erdoğan has repeatedly signalled over the years that it should be restored as a mosque to fulfil a long-standing demand by Turkish Islamists.
Officials of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate recited sections of the Quran at Hagia Sophia in honour of Conquest of Istanbul Day on May 29, causing anger in Greece. The event has once again raised speculation that the building will be turned into a mosque or used regularly for Islamic prayer.
In the interview, the Turkish president also tied the fate of Hagia Sophia to the disputes between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, where the two countries are at odds over exploratory drilling for potentially huge gas resources near Cyprus, Cumhuriyet said.