Why It is Turkey’s Right to Reinstate Hagia Sophia as a Mosque

After Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled that his government has been mulling the options to reinstate Hagia Sophia’s status as a mosque, Greek public and politicians have gone berserk claiming rights to the architecture even after losing it to Ottomans 567 years ago. However, Athens being the only capital in the Balkans with no mosque despite being ruled by Muslim Ottomans for over 200 years shows the world that Greece should first settle with its genocidal past before even making a statement about Hagia Sophia.

After Mehmet the second conquered Istanbul from Byzantines in 1453, first thing he did was to announce a decree securing the lives and properties of the non-Muslim population of the city. Sultan Mehmet declared a similar mandate known as Ahidname which is accepted as the first ever human rights declaration in 1463 in Bosnia to protect Franciscans.

Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the conquest as a symbol and in line with Islamic law and Sultan Mehmet personally purchased the property of Hagia Sophia and donated to a foundation he established to look after Hagia Sophia. So it is being turned into a museum was not a legal move in the first place. A few other churches also were symbolically converted into mosques by Ottomans but the most of the Christian worship places have been protected until today by Turks. According to the official statistics, there are 1,388 churches in Turkey as of 2017. The number was 273 in 2007 according to Turkish media. Early modern Turkey after the collapse of Ottoman empire had confiscated substantial amount of properties and shot down some churches mostly in the first half of the 19th century but the situation has dramatically been changed after successive Erdogan governments came to power in 2003. Ak Party has returned more than 3 billion dollars worth properties so far to the non-Muslim foundations since it came to power.

But cultural and religious legacy left behind by Ottomans in the Balkans and especially in Greece have been subjected to brutal destruction after Turks lost the region. Greece which vehemently opposes turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, destroyed all the mosques in its capital and only standing mosque structure in Athens has been used as a museum. In eastern Greece where its minority Turkish population live, brutal assimilation and destruction policies have been implemented by the state. Al Jazeera reported last month that the oldest Ottoman mosque in Europe -Beyazit Mosque- was suspiciously burnt down in 2017 and Greek government provide no funds to restore it. Turkish government, on the other hand, has restored dozens of churches of Christian faith in the past 20 years including Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery and reopened them for prayer or visit.

During Ottoman rule, there have been 2336 mosques in Greece and there are only 300 left for more than 150 thousand Muslim Turks living in Greece. In Turkey, however, there are one church for every 20 Greek Orthodox

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