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After the Turkish Court Ruling

Αssociated Press

A man waves a Turkish flag outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul s main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, following Turkey s Council of State s decision, Friday, July 10, 2020.(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Turkey's highest court ruled that Aghia Sophia may become a Mosque. During the weeks leading up to the present court ruling governments, churches, and cultural organizations expressed opposition to Turkish President Erdogan's plans for Aghia Sophia. Finally, a long overdue uproar in response to Turkish aggression. Greece took the initial steps in opposing Turkey's plans for Aghia Sophia. The American Government expressed its opposition as have the Russians and other European governments. 

UNESCO finally went on the record by writing letters to Turkish officials expressing opposition to the conversion of Aghia Sophia. Better late than never, but it would have been nice if UNESCO had opposed Turkish plans years earlier when protests might have made a difference. Ankara's aggressive designs on Aghia Sophia began in 2013 when Turkey converted the Church-Museum of Aghia Sophia in Trebizond into a Mosque. They later converted the Church-Museums (also named Aghia Sophia) of Nicea (Iznik) and Adrianople (Edirne) into Mosques. Having met no opposition there, the Turks proceeded to the conversion of THE Aghia Sophia. 

It should not be at all surprising that the Turks have reacted with complete and utter contempt for world opinion. In 2011, Turkey nearly started a war with Israel when it sent a flotilla of leftist protesters from the occupied territory of Cyprus (whose sovereignty this group was violating) to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. In 2015, President Erdogan ordered the shooting down of a Russian plane over Syria and might have triggered a third world war. In the late stages of the fight against Islamic State in Syria Turkey threatened to invade the areas where American forces were assisting the Syrian Kurds. If the Turks were prepared to instigate potential wars against Israel, Russia, and America they were certainly not going to restrain themselves over the matter of Aghia Sophia. 

Prominent media outlets normally silent on affairs pertaining to Turkey have come alive with coverage and analysis of Aghia Sophia. Some have speculated that President Erdogan is doing this for partisan political purposes because of the Coronavirus and the problems of the Turkish economy. This is absolutely wrong. President Erdogan is a very successful revolutionary who has overcome two major obstacles to ensure the success of his revolution. First, he managed to survive the attempted coup of 2004 (known as the Ergenekon affair). His government successfully purged the military of hundreds of prominent Kemalist army officers. Kemalism refers to the cult that was dedicated by the Turkish military to the personality of the final perpetrator of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides Mustafa Kemal. The Kemalists put up a successful front for eighty years making Turkey appear to ignorant sources as a moderate democracy, although the reality was quite different. 

Having purged the military of Kemalists, the Erdogan government installed Islamic army officers known as ‘Gulenists’ named after their leader who is living in exile in the United States. Over time, a rift developed between Erdogan's Islamists and the Gulenists and it was apparently the latter who were responsible for the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. The conversion of Aghia Sophia is both a matter of ideology (Turkish nationalism) and a source of deep religious commitment by the Turkish President. The move against Aghia Sophia did not come from nowhere. Not only were these designs preceded by the conversions of the aforementioned Church-Museums they were preceded by the triumphalist displays of May 29, 2020 in which the conquest of Constantinople was celebrated. 

President Erdogan has responded by insisting the conversion of Aghia Sophia is a matter of Turkish sovereignty. The appeals of governments, churches, and cultural institutions are not seen by the Turkish leadership for what they are. They are simply appeals based on the fact that Aghia Sophia is a holy site for Christians and a cultural monument for secular groups and academic institutions. The Turkish leadership sees this in its traditionally paranoid way, interpreting diplomatic and good natured appeals with actual threats. The most interesting aspect of this entire affair is the strong Russian opposition to the Turkish designs on Aghia Sophia. 

The Russian Orthodox Church has reminded the world that the envoys of Prince Vladimir who travelled to Constantinople in the late tenth century attended the Divine Liturgy in the Great Church and were so enthralled that Saint Vladimir was moved to accept Byzantine Christianity. The Russian Church has been joined by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Duma in formulating appeals to Turkey not to change the status of Aghia Sophia. As of this writing, the Orthodox Churches of Jerusalem, Rumania, and Georgia have now expressed opposition to the conversion of Aghia Sophia. 

The Turkish conversion of Aghia Sophia may come to symbolize the Erdogan revolution in Turkey. Much like the Iranian revolution was symbolized by the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran, and much like the world saw an early preview of Nazi horror with the burning of books in May 1933, the disturbance of the hallowed ground of Aghia Sophia is a warning that Turkey is a pariah and is becoming a jihadist state. The civilized world has ignored so many Turkish horrors and crimes against humanity in the past. May the Angels and the Saints of Aghia Sophia and the Triune God whom they serve awaken the world from its indifference to evil.