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“Erdogan is using Hagia Sophia to get support"

Hagia Sophia will become a mosque. For the Orthodox world, it is clear this is a political decision. The goal is to gain internal support in Turkey at a difficult time for its president, Recep Erdogan. His popularity has been declining over the years.

This is the analysis of Nikos Tzoitis, who advises the relations between the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Rome
"The Patriarch notified Erdogan two weeks before he made the decision. He told him not to turn Islam against Christianity. The Turkish economy is in difficulty with devalued currency, increased unemployment. So to get support, Erdogan succumbed to religious motives."

I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very saddened.

For Nikos Tzoitis, the pope's message is not one against Erdogan, but rather a rejection of using religion for political purposes.

The Patriarchate's adviser also suggests looking at how the great nations reacted: from Orthodox Russia to the United States. He says reactions to Erdogan's decision were weak because everyone needs him to defend their interests in the Middle East.

Advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Rome
"Erdogan knows how to use his geopolitical position very well. He knows how to handle the global powers of Russia and the USA because he commands in the region. Therefore the great ones do not want to interfere in their internal politics.”

UNESCO expressed its discontent at Erdogan's decision. A statement read that "the Director-General of UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, to change the status of Hagia Sophia. This decision, announced today, raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property’s universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories."

Many are concerned about the future of Christian mosaics present in the now mosque. These are works of art whose permanence is now questioned with Erdogan's decision. However, Turkey has promised not to touch them.

The decision about Hagia Sophia is a deep wound for the Christian and Orthodox world in particular. In the past, this monument was an expression of the greatness of Byzantium, much more splendid than Rome, which declined after the fall of the Empire. In the 15th century the Ottomans took the city and turned it into a mosque. In 1934, the first president of modern Turkey, Atatürk decided to turn it into a museum, a political gesture of peace that contemporary Turkey wants to forget.

Javier Romero
Translation: Melissa Butz