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Turkey Converts Church of Hagia Sophia from Museum to Mosque

(Updated) The Turkish parliament now is considering an application to re-convert the smaller church's Istanbul namesake as well.

Update (July 1): Morning Star News (MSN) reports that the petition to convert the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a Muslim mosque could be part of "a larger project of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to turn more of the nation's buildings and public spaces into Islamic places of worship."

According to MSN, "Istanbul has turned into a giant construction zone since the AKP began its rule 10 years ago, and since coming to power (prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) has managed to put an Islamic spin on many projects." That includes Gezi Park and a 30,000-person "mega-mosque," about which Istanbul's Christians say they're not really concerned.

In the U.S., Turkey also is planning a 15-acre, $100-million mosque that will open in Lanham, Maryland, in 2014.

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Update (May 2):Just weeks after a Turkish court ruled to re-convert the Church of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Hurriyet Daily News reports that similar changes could be in store for the church's Istanbul namesake.

"A parliamentary commission is considering an application by citizens to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque," the local news outlet reported. "The application has been taken under consideration by the Parliament's Petition Commission, [which will] be asking for the opinions of the related institutions on the issue."

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The Church of Hagia Sophia on Turkey's Black Sea coastline may not be as prominent as its famous namesake in Istanbul. But a recent court ruling to re-convert the smaller church-turned-museum into a mosque could make it a "stalking horse" for Istanbul's mega-tourist attraction, as well as other Turkish historical sites.

For the past 50 years, the Church of Hagia Sophia in the small town of Trabzon has served as a museum for 13-century art and artifacts under the direction of Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism. However, "courts now accept the claim ... that this has been an 'illegal occupation,'" and that the building was originally "covenanted as a mosque."

A similar museum-to-church conversion occurred in 2010, when Christians secured the right to hold religious services for pilgrims in St. Paul's Church in Tarsus, nearly 70 years after the church was re-purposed as a museum.

There's no word yet whether the plan to convert the museum into a mosque will involve preserving or masking the Christian art that adorns the walls; but the whole situation could be bad news for Istanbul's famous Hagia Sophia, the re-conversion of which "has long been the 'golden apple' sought by Turkey's religious right."

CT has previously reported on real estate disputes involving Turkish churches, including the Mor Gabriel monastery. CT also noted that Turkey allowed Christian services to be held at St. Paul's Church in Tarsus.

In addition, CT has reported on the state of the Christian church in Turkey, including a 2008 cover story on the 'bloody' rebirth of "Jesus in Turkey."

Posted:April 11, 2013 at 12:47PM
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Turkey Converts Church of Hagia Sophia from Museum to Mosque