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The court ruling has overturned a historic injustice; Hagia Sophia was already a mosque

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Turkey’s senior administrative court issued a ruling on 1 July that annulled the 1934 decision of the Turkish Council of Ministers to transform Hagia Sophia Mosque into a museum. It was another step in the secularisation of the Republic of Turkey under its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“The decision was taken to hand over the management of the [Hagia Sophia] Mosque… to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” said the court. The judgement was made in response to a petition filed in 2005 by the Istanbul NGO the Permanent Foundations Service to Historical Artefacts and Environment Association, which argued that the 1934 change of the mosque into a museum was illegal.

According to the NGO, Hagia Sophia forms part of a religious foundation — a Waqf — established by Sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman leader who conquered Constantinople, as it was then, in 1453. The historic structure was at the time a cathedral.

The court concluded that Mehmet II’s deed described the building as a mosque so that “its use outside this character is not possible legally” and decided that “the cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with the law.” Despite some local and international criticism, Turkish President Recipe Tayyip Erdogan signed the decree and moved formal responsibility for the building and land to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

READ: UNESCO says World Heritage Committee to review Hagia Sophia

Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century as a cathedral for the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the building witnessed several dramatic changes. In 1443, with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople by the 19-year-old Sultan Mehmet II, it was turned into a mosque.

After the conquest, explains Egyptian historian Dr Raghib Al-Serjani, the........

© Middle East Monitor