ISTANBUL – A number of thousand Muslims gathered on Friday to participate within the first prayer at Hagia Sophia because the Istanbul landmark was reconverted to a mosque, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan additionally anticipated to participate.
Regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, tight crowds fashioned on Friday morning across the former cathedral for the prayer scheduled for round 1000 GMT, AFP correspondents mentioned. A number of folks had spent the evening within the space.
The UNESCO World Heritage web site in historic Istanbul was first constructed as a cathedral within the Christian Byzantine Empire however was transformed right into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
The Council of State, the very best administrative court docket, on July 10 unanimously cancelled a 1934 resolution by fashionable Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to show it right into a museum, saying it was registered as a mosque in its property deeds.
Erdogan then ordered the constructing to reopen for Muslim worship, deeply angering the Christian group and additional straining relations with NATO ally Greece.
There have been Koranic recitations within the morning in Hagia Sophia earlier than the Friday prayer which Erdogan, Turkish officers and overseas dignitaries will attend.
As much as 1,000 folks will pray contained in the constructing with many extra in a position to pray outdoors however confronted with such a big circulation of individuals, together with some not carrying masks, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya mentioned the areas round Hagia Sophia have been swiftly crammed.
– ‘Provocation’ –
Specialists say Erdogan’s transfer to reconvert Hagia Sophia is an try to galvanise his conservative and nationalist base amid financial uncertainty exacerbated by the virus outbreak and a few polls suggesting his ruling celebration is dropping votes.
Erdogan’s resolution has additionally undone a part of the secular legacy of Ataturk, who needed Hagia Sophia as a museum in order to “supply it to humanity”.
The timing of the primary prayer is critical. Friday is the 97th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, which set fashionable Turkey’s borders after years of battle with Greece and Western powers.
Erdogan, who professes nostalgia for the Ottoman empire, has referred to as for the treaty’s revision lately.
In Turkey, Hagia Sophia stays carefully related to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II, referred to as the Conqueror.
An Ottoman navy band was within the constructing’s forecourt on Friday.
Erdogan shared a video on Twitter on Wednesday which featured Muslims from throughout the Islamic world singing in tribute to Hagia Sophia.
“You may have at all times been ours, and we’re yours,” the Turkish chief wrote.
However the Friday prayer is about towards a backdrop of tense relations between NATO allies Ankara and Athens, significantly associated to Turkish hydrocarbon exploration within the japanese Mediterranean.
Greece strongly denounced the reconversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, seeing it as an “open provocation to all the civilised world.”
– Preservation considerations –
Church bells round Greece will peal at noon on Friday with their flags at half-mast to protest what the top of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, has referred to as an “unholy act of defiling” of the previous cathedral.
“(Right this moment) is a day of mourning for all of… Christianity,” Ieronymos mentioned.
Ankara rejects worldwide criticism within the identify of “sovereignty” and insists vacationers will nonetheless be capable to go to the mosque and see the mosaics.
Round three.eight million vacationers visited Hagia Sophia final yr.
Some specialists are involved concerning the pace of the conversion as turquoise carpet was laid for the trustworthy to wish.
“(Two weeks) doesn’t enable sufficient time to adequately seek the advice of with specialists, deliberate, focus on and… give you a sustainable technique to protect Hagia Sophia for future generations,” Tugba Tanyeri Erdemir, of the College of Pittsburgh, instructed AFP.
The Byzantine mosaics, plastered over for hundreds of years when the constructing served as a mosque, will likely be hidden with curtains throughout prayer occasions since Islam bans figurative representations.