Last week, Turkish President Recep Erdogan officially converted the Hagia Sophia back from a museum into a mosque, eliminating a key reform of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk.
The building, officially called the Great Mosque of Ayasofia, will remain open to visitors of all faiths except during times of Muslim prayer, when it will be cordoned off to those who do not practice Islam. All Christian images which face in the direction of Mecca will be covered during those times, and all Christian iconography in the mosque is to have transparent physical barriers erected around it.
Further changes are expected, as physical reconstruction is underway, but they have not been announced to the public.
The mosque was constructed as a Christian cathedral in 537, but was seized after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in 1543. The cathedral was modified into a mosque as a representation of the supremacy of Islam. Because of the history of the site, the shift to museum status in 1935 was considered a decisive move toward international peace.
The reconversion marks a strong step away from the secular foundation of the country and has disturbed NATO allies, particularly neighboring Greece which has been subjected to a series of low-level aggressions from Turkey for decades. Those conflicts have risen in scope and frequency since the ascent of Erdogan to the Presidency.
Erdogan has consistently pushed Sharia-based reforms to Turkish law and is widely seen as envisioning Turkey as an Islamic nation and plausibly the center of a revitalized Ottoman empire.
Despite Turkey’s shift away from secular reforms, Erdogan is one of President Trump’s strongest international allies.
Middle East Monitor, a pro-Islamic and anti-Jewish news organization based out of the UK, today posted in English a report from the New Khaleej that Trump has privately voiced direct support to Erdogan on Turkey’s encroachment into Syria, where they are seizing land which was once held by pro-freedom forces of the Kurds. Due to MEMO’s established bias and the inability to source the story beyond the original Islamic news site, that report must be viewed with skepticism, but it does appear to dovetail with the revelations of Trump’s pro-Turkey bias from John Bolton’s recent book and Trump’s public actions in favor of the country and its President.