The Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak II Mashalian has endorsed the idea of restoring the status of a place of worship to the mosque-basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, today visited by tourists as a simple museum.
The issue of the status of Hagia Sophia has returned to the centre of controversy in past weeks after Turkish authorities began to push that it again be used as a place of Islamic worship.
Patriarch Sahak II, the head of the largest Christian community in present-day Turkey, offered his arguments in a series of messages disseminated through his Twitter account.
“Hagia Sophia was built with the labor of 10,000 workers, spending a fortune. It has gone through numerous renovations and all those efforts were meant to keep it as a worship place but not to serve as a museum. I believe that believers praying suits better the spirit of the temple instead of curious tourists running around to take pictures”, Sahak II stated.
Based on these considerations, the Patriarch hopes that the former basilica will be reopened for both Muslim and Christian prayer, thus becoming a tangible sign of a possible “alliance” between Islam and Christianity.
“The site is large enough to allocate a space for Christians” so that “the world can applaud our religious peace and maturity”, Sahak II remarked.
The Patriarch further stated that humanity was praying for such unity and suggested sharing the dome of Hagia Sophia: “Even though our faiths are different, don’t we believe in the same God?”
Having been a place of worship for Christians for 1,000 years and for Muslims for another 500, he stated that Hagia Sophia wouldn’t mind it.
“Hagia Sophia, the place of ‘Holy Wisdom’, will inform you that there is nothing more precious than peace in the history of humanity”, Sahak asserted.
The Patriarch, implicitly offering resistance to the ‘neo-Ottoman’ ambitions of the current Turkish leadership, also underlined that in the current world “we cannot afford the luxury of a new conflict between the cross and the crescent”.
“The salvation of the world is the covenant of the cross and the crescent. And the honor of manifesting such peace to the world is worthy of the Republic of Turkey”, the Patriarch insisted.
The declarations of Armenian Patriarch Sahak II on the future of Hagia Sophia are likely to rekindle controversy on an issue that in recent weeks has also returned to fuel tensions and oppositions, including geopolitical ones.
In early June, Turkish media published rumours that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself had given instructions to change the statute of the monumental complex of Hagia Sophia, so that it can also be used again as a place of Islamic worship without closing the building for tourist visits.
The Turkish Council of State, in a session put on the agenda for next Thursday July 2, will consider opening the monumental complex of Hagia Sophia to Islamic worship again, possibly reversing the decision with which, in 1934, the Turkish government converted into a simple museum the ancient Byzantine basilica transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453).
The pronouncement of the Council of State will represent a strong institutional response which will allow the evaluation of the realistic possibilities of success of the pressure put in place by sectors of the Turkish political leadership with respect to the feature of the mosque-basilica.