- Erdogan's move was seen as deeply offensive to the Orthodox believers.
- Russians have been calling on Putin to act.
- It is highly likely Erdogan is just pestering.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement in 2019 that the status of the Hagia Sophia could be changed from a museum in to a mosque. According to him, this would be in response to the United States’ recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan heights.
Although the Orthodox faith is a small minority in the United States, the move by Turkey greatly infuriated believers within the region. Many were appalled that the US didn’t condemn Turkey, and some wanted NATO to drop Turkish membership. Others pointed to the support of mosques within the United States, while others were left to believe that, when it comes to the Orthodox faith, the only defender is Russia.
Last month, Erdogan advised Greece to “know its place” on the issue of changing the status of the museum, and said that Turkey has a Parliament for such decisions. The tensions with Greece continue to escalate. France condemned Turkish actions and tired of Erdogan and his shenanigans. Ironically, for NATO or Russia, it would not take much to facilitate a coup and finally remove Erdogan from power.
Erdogan has long been a proponent of radicalization and Islamization of Turkish society. He wants to turn a secular state into an Islamic one. The Hagia Sophia was a mosque before Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to power.
By converting it back into a mosque, Erdogan simultaneously wants to put himself above Atatürk, and instead compare himself with Mehmed II the Conqueror (who captured Constantinople and converted Sofia into a mosque). In reality, Erdogan is a boar that the West tolerated for too long.
This month, Greek Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson Stelios Petsas said that Greece called on Turkey to maintain the status of a museum at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, because turning it into a mosque could provoke a split between Christians and Turkey.
Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, considered the matter on July 2nd. The body believes that a presidential decree is sufficient to change the status of the museum. The decision will be announced within 15 days.
Russian Deputy head of the department for external church relations in the Moscow Patriarchate, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, stated, “turning the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul into a mosque threatens consequences. There will really be something to answer for,” he said, since any failure of the long-standing balances in inter religious and inter civilizational relations in the world is fraught with serious and difficult-to-predict consequences.
In this case, we are talking about a monument of unique, truly global significance, and it is not just a cultural and historical object, but also a sacred place for millions. Of course, the “Great Church of Christ,” as the Hagia Sophia was called for centuries, was the main Cathedral of Eastern Christianity for thousands of years, a symbol not only of the Byzantine Empire, but also of Orthodoxy in General.
Hagia Sophia Church preserves priceless mosaics by Byzantine masters— what little remains of the “stunning splendor of the Grand Christian Empire.” According to Archpriest Balashov, the spiritual heirs of this Empire are the peoples of Russia, who were once “captivated by this unearthly beauty.” They converted to Christianity after the ambassadors of Prince Vladimir, the future Baptist of Russia, who visited Saint Sophia, reported, “we do not know whether we were in heaven or on earth.”
Immediately after the statement, there were calls on social media for Russia to act. Especially since the new constitutional amendments now have God in them. To note, during the Soviet Era communists did not allow religion.
This is a big step for Russia to return back to Christianity and to God. There are proposals being made to move Hagia Sophia to Russia. Additionally, the Russian populous is looking at Putin to act. They voted on amendments, and now they want action, including protecting Russian religion.
At this time, Russian government officials commented on the situation. If, Erdogan goes ahead with the conversion into mosque, Russia will have no choice but to use active measures at its disposal.
It would be considered an attack on Russian religion and Christianity as a whole. It is highly likely that Erdogan is just pestering. Becoming a Russian enemy is not something he can afford.