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Briefing The Conflict Behind Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia is a great conflicted building in the heart of Turkey, Istanbul, which is now converted into a mosque again.

It was built as a Cathedral in the 6th century by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian in a quite short period of six years and was completed in 537 CE.

It remained a Cathedral for about a Millennium. After the conquest of Constantinople, on 29 May 1453, Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan offered the prayer in Hagia Sophia and declared it as a mosque. Since then, it has remained as a mosque. He has also contributed to the building, by constructing a wooden minaret, a great chandelier, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca), and a minbar (pulpit).

 As both Christians and Muslims claim their rights over the building, so to satisfy both the parties, in 1935, Turkish President, Kemal Ataturk, being a secularist, made the building a museum. The building is considered a significant source of information about Mosaic art.

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The move of conversion of Hagia Sophia, by a Turkish court, from Museum to Mosque has received criticism from around the world.

Pope Francis, a Roman Catholic Leader, commented in a few words on the decision as- “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained.”

As this building is a UNESCO Heritage Site, it said it “deeply regrets” Turkey’s decision and the decision was made without any prior notification.

“Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

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According to the organization, any alteration in the site should not affect their outstanding value.

“It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management,” said Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture.

President Erdogan reacted to the opposition, by saying “They say ‘don’t convert Aya Sofya into a mosque,'” he said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT on July 5. “Are you ruling Turkey or us? Turkey has institutions. If that step [is] to be taken It is obvious who has the authority to do that.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compelled Turkey to maintain UNESCO Heritage Site as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey and to ensure it remains accessible to all

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He also said that this building allows people from different parts of the world to see this “magnificent achievement.”

“This extraordinary site is a testament to religious expression and to artistic and technical genius, reflected in its rich and complex 1,500-year history,” he said.

“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability — so rare in the modern world — to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of different faith traditions and cultures.”

President Erdogan in his speech after the conversion justified the move, saying the country has done it just by exercising its sovereign rights.

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As Erdogan said, entry into the building will be free of cost and everyone will be allowed to enter the premises including non-muslims.

He also mentioned that, as they do not interfere in the affairs related to religious places of other countries, they also expect others to respect their decision regarding the protection of “historical and legal rights”.

He also shed light about how, Muslims, Christians and Jews have been living in Istanbul with “peace and tranquillity”.

He told, that Hagia Sophia is one of the symbols of their country.

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The conversion or reformation of a mosque into the temple, or cathedral into a mosque, or from a worshipping place of a particular religion into another has been a common happening in the history of the civilisations of the world, but we need to make sure that the love and peace among the people from these different religious communities should remain the same.

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