Istanbul, 2 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Turkey‘s highest administrative court will on Thursday review a petition calling for Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum to be reconverted into a mosque.
Built by the Byzantines, it was the largest church in Christendom from the 6th century. It was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, in 1453.
Its status was changed to a museum after a 1934 decree.
The court’s decision could come on Thursday or within 15 days, state news agency Anadolu reported.
Religious hardliners have long demanded that the UNESCO World Heritage Site be made a mosque again.
Before elections last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of the possibility of naming it a mosque.
It is a divisive issue in Turkey, where many view Hagia Sophia’s current status as emblematic of the country’s secular constitution.
The petition being heard in the Council of State was brought by a little-known association, whose 75-year-old head, Ismail Kandemir, has been fighting for 26 years for the change.
He recently told Kanal7 TV that he has “dedicated his life” for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for Islamic prayers.
Kandemir is seeking an annulment of the decree by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, which changed the status of the monument to a museum.
Towering over Istanbul’s skyline, the Hagia Sophia is a cultural landmark for both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by millions of tourists each year.
“The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world,” said Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian Church.