Turkey’s Rise and Fall with Hagia Sofia

“The Hagia Sophia, Ayasofya in Turkish, which is set against the beautiful pink skies of Istanbul was originally built as a Christian Basilica over 1,500 years ago and during this time it has transformed with the dynamic Turkish culture. Designed by Isidoros (Milet), Anthemios (Tralles) and Isidore the Younger (the nephew of Isidoros), it is now a global structure with its significance ranging from matters of politics and religion to those concerning art history and architecture.

Today, it is not just a architectural wonder but also an important landmark for Christians and Muslims alike and the decision to convert it into a mosque remains insulting and offensive to Christians globally. This is because it was built for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church back when Istanbul was known as Constantinople and having survived two series of riots which resulted in the Church being set on fire and rebuilt and restored each time, it is now a symbol of resilience and strength.

The Hagia Sophia became the central church as Greek Orthodox was the official religion of the Byzantines and thus, this ended up becoming the place where new emperors were crowned. This was after Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire decreed that all the places under his rule would collaborate towards the construction of the third and final Basilica so that it could represent all of these places.

For this reason, it is an architectural masterpiece made of marble from Turkey and Syria, bricks from North Africa and columns which were imported from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus as well as Egypt. For these reasons, Hagia Sophia was an integral part of Byzantine culture and politics and considered to be sacred until it was severely damaged during the Crusades when it fell under Roman control. Even then it was later restored to its former glory when the Byzantines once again took control of the city.

The main change, however, took place when the Ottomans led by Mehmed the Conqueror captured what is modern day Istanbul and since Islam was their religion, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. The Ottomans covered Orthodox mosaics and images of Christ with Islamic calligraphy that was designed by Kazasker Mustafa İzzet. The names of Allah, Prophet Muhammad and the first four Caliphs, and the Prophet’s two grandsons were added.

Additionally, four minarets were added to protect the structure from earthquakes and to create a place for the Adhan (call to prayer). All of this changed when Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey and for the last 85 years, Hagia Sophia has operated as a museum but now due to Islamic religious leaders and a rise in nationalism, there is discussion and advocacy for turning it into a mosque. This is wrong.

The change from Church to Mosque, while a largely politically popular decision to gain support from radicals in country, is still blasphemy. As muslims, we are so entitled that any attack on our religion is blasphemy but any attack on a religion other than ours is considered to be our birthright.

This is wrong. Erdogan should be ashamed of his decision for it is not political since he is a democratically elected leader and not a conqueror or invader. His decision makes no sense, politically or morally. While he argues that this decision is crucial since the capture of Hagia Sophia from the Orthodox Greeks was an important time in history, he fails to realize the significance that this monument holds for Christians.”

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