July 12, 2020, the Supreme Court of Turkey rules in favor of changing the status of the Hagia Sophia. The former seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is now open to Muslim worship; the building transformed into a mosque.
President Erdogan's gesture is pregnant with meaning. The founder of modern Turkey Moustapha Kemal, Atatürk, claimed to offer Hagia Sophia to humanity: in 1934 he made the basilica a museum, previously converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century. The current trend is to present this act of July 2020 as a break with the Kemalist vision and the republican tradition of Turkey since 1923. A political turnaround, a step back for the country claiming to be modern and secular ... Reality is slightly different.
Atatürk turning Hagia Sophia into a museum is not a disinterested gesture.This is a signal the leader sends to the world. By "offering" such a monument, he gives a modern facade of secularism and tolerance to his State. A facade that Erdogan would therefore erode. There is what Ataturk and the pre-Erdogan republic did "for the gallery" and what has been done in parallel to assert Turkish power. Even if it means getting rid of Christians, even if it means spilling blood.
A secular and tolerant republic once it is emptied of its "indigenous".
It is indeed Turks of Moustapha Kemal who attacked in 1920 Armenians survivors of the genocide, refugees in Cilicia. 30,000 of them are massacred. It is under the leadership of the Kemalists that the "great exchange" takes place, when the Greeks of Asia Minor are forced to leave Anatolia. What are they blamed for? The fact of not being Turks, because Greek Christians.
The republic of 1923 is unitary, parliamentary, constitutional and secular but must have an overwhelming majority of Muslims. In addition, in 1934, the year when Atatürk made Hagia Sophia a museum, the Jewish communities in Thrace suffered pogroms. In 1955, in that secular republic heir to Ataturk with which Erdogan was supposed to break, that new pogroms took place. This time, the Greek people of Istanbul are targeted. The Orthodox are then expelled from this city. Is this a premise for the transformation of the Basilica into a mosque? During the bloody invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish army, exodus was imposed on the Greek Orthodox Cypriots, in addition to the ransacking of churches, kidnappings of prisoners and rapes of young women by the military.
A century after the ascension of Mustapha Kemal, a power, that is once again strong in Turkey, chooses to transform Hagia Sophia again. In ancient Constantinople, the old Basilica is used as a toy by the authorities. In 1934, it shows the supposed modernity and opening of a country which at the same time drives out Christians. In 2020, it is no longer used to “flatter the world”, but to challenge it. Erdogan's intolerance is certainly calculated. Is that with regard to Christendom a novelty in the Turkish Republic? Recent history tends to prove the opposite. Since 1923, how many churches have been transformed into mosques? How many Christians banished? Hagia Sophia and Erdogan in 2020 appear to be just another step.
Françolis-Marie Boudet, communication officer.
Photo 1 : Portraits of presidents Erdogan and Atatürk.
Photo 2 : 1923 "the great exchange" 300,000 Greeks leaves Anatoly after the Treaty of Lausanne
Photo 3 : The Armenian monastery of Sour Nshan, destroyed by explosives in 1978. A military basis was built on the former place of the monastery