Built in the middle of the 4th century, Hagia Sofia or Santa Sofia was an active mosque once. It was after the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century. Only in 1935, thanks to the policy of religious and ethnic tolerance carried out by a founder and the Republic of Turkey’s first President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, one of the largest Christian churches in the world was transformed into a museum. It was included as a World Heritage Site on the UNESCO list in the late 1980s.
Calls for permission to hold prayers in the church have been repeatedly voiced over the last few years. However, they were ignored. Now Turkish politicians use is it in their political games trying to create public opinion, Stanislav Tarasov, the head of the Middle East-Caucasus Centre of the International Institute of the Newest States, believes:
“There are certain political circles which call for the transformation of the Christian church into a mosque, challenging the entire Christian world this way. They want to reduce global events happening in the Middle East to a conflict of civilizations.”
The Istanbul Hagia Sofia is not the first among Turkey’s Christian churches which became a target for some politicians who deliberately try to make a religious center out of it. In spite of repeated calls of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to return relics to the Christian world, churches in Nicaea and Trebizond (present day Iznik and Trabzon) were transformed into mosques. They were museums, just like Hagia Sofia, only a while ago. Soon Salat will be held in the oldest monument of Byzantine architecture – the Monastery of Stoudios. It’s a very disturbing tendency,” Tarasov believes.