Why Erdogan is wrong on Hagia Sophia | HT Editorial
To push his majoritarian Islamist politics, he is reversing Turkey’s rich historyUpdated: Jul 13, 2020 18:49 IST
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to reconvert the iconic Hagia Sophia, a Unesco world heritage site, to a mosque aims at reversing his decreasing popularity — the result of an economy in tatters and threats from political rivals. But, more fundamentally, it marks a sharp move away from the secular nation founded by the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, to an Islamic one.
The site is rich in history. It was a Byzantine church, converted into a mosque after the Ottomans overran Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1453. It was made a museum in 1934 when Ataturk began to make Turkey a secular republic. Mr Erdogan’s recent move has been criticised by many, including Pope Francis, as an attempt to rewrite history. For Christians, Hagia Sophia holds significance as an orthodox Christian monument. Since 2002, when Mr Erdogan came to power, he has chipped away at the Kemalist State and Islamised it. Civil liberties have been eroded, the media is under fire, and criticisms of his regime are often met with disproportionate responses. Also, his dangerous foreign policy interventions in Syria and Libya have strengthened radical Islamists in both countries.
Mr Erdogan is now trying to push, under the garb of restoring past historic glory, majoritarian political measures. What worked for the Ottomans cannot work today. There is a delicate weaving together of history, heritage, culture, which explains symbols of each nation — and nations must embrace it rather than overturn it. This is a lesson that many, who are set on righting the real or perceived wrongs of history, would do well to remember in Turkey and beyond.