Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque was “a child’s dream,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a symbolic ceremony. The call to prayer lasted 45 minutes, much longer than usual. And the carpet that covered the floor of the mosque was turquoise, a color chosen personally by the president, with fibers pointing towards Mecca.
A religious conversion but also a very political one
The date, too, was not by chance. This July 24 is indeed the day of the 97th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne which fixes the borders of modern Turkey and that the president, nostalgic for the Ottoman Empire, often calls for revision.
For many observers, the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque aims to galvanize the conservative and nationalist electoral base of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a context of economic difficulties aggravated by the pandemic. By making this decision, the Head of State, often accused of Islamist drift, is also attacking the legacy of the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal, who had transformed Hagia Sophia into a museum to make it the emblem of the Republic. ‘a secular Turkey.
This conversion has also made many teeth cringe. Pope Francis said he was “very distressed” and, in protest in Greece, Orthodox churches were to ring their bells on Friday.