Erdogan Moves Toward Making Aghia Sophia Mosque, Name Change

FILE - In this Friday, March 24, 2017 file photo, people walk backdropped by the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, file)

He’s said it before but it looks as if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is getting closer to his promise, or threat, of again converting the revered Agia Sophia church in Constantinople into a mosque.

It is now a museum that in 2018 received some 3.47 million visitors awed by its majestic interior making it Turkey’s top tourist attraction. The church was built  in the 6th Century and had been turned into a mosque in the 15th century after the fall of the city to Turkish forces and many of the mosaics were plastered over and nearly destroyed although they are being restored.

Speaking to journalists at a news conference aired by the Turkish state broadcaster – unlike in Greece where Prime Ministers don’t generally meet with reporters by issue press statements or tweets – Erdogan left open the possibility of the conversion.

In answer to a question on visiting the Christian Orthodox Cathedral without paying an entry fee he said, “This is not unlikely. We might even change its name to Ayasofya Mosque,” Erdoğan said, according to the pro-government Daily Sabah.

“As you know, the mosque was converted to a museum in 1935, as a reflection of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) mentality. We may as well take a step and change that,” a translation of his statement also noted.