Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Hagia Sophia: National Sovereignty is not the Issue, Erdogan Likes to Play the Blaming Game

Hagia Sophia
Erdoğan with U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2019
The Gordian: sign up and get our monthly magazine.

A cathedral first, then a mosque, and later a museum. Last week, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia became a mosque once again; an insular act for Turkey’s Erdogan to flex his political mussels and to fuel his posture of indignation and grievance.

The president knows casting cultural divides resonates with many of his support base, inside as well as outside of Turkey. He boosts his popularity and draws strength from his constant tussle with domestic and foreign foemen. 

Finished in 537, Hagia Sophia is one of the culminating architectural achievements of the late antiquity and the Byzantine Empire. I first visited this cultural site in 2018 and it soon became apparent to me that this was no ordinary building: it was a manifestation of beauty, a magnificent hybrid of Turkish and European architecture with ornate pillars, mosaics and a breath-taking dome that easily compared with Rome’s finest churches.

The combination of giant Islamic iconography, which was installed by Sultan Mehmed II, as a symbol of imperial faith, and a magnificent picture of a Madonna on its sublime dome, assured me that Istanbul was still the bridge that connects the east to the west.  

“Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

Although there may have been many reasons behind the secularisation of the Hagia Sophia and its conversion into a museum in 1934, the move gave a powerful message about what the new Turkey wanted to be: a secular and peaceful nation; a nation made for its citizens regardless of political and religious views; one that not only recognised its diverse past, but also embraced it. Today however, this is no longer the case.

Although a clear political expedient for the president, turning the monument back into a mosque was in no way a surprise; it was a cause close to the hearts of many Turkish islamists and nationalists for decades. Some polls even suggest that a majority of Turks favoured the conversion. 

Secularism is becoming a fading force in the Turkish society. Marked by growing authoritarianism and tyranny, Erdogan’s 16 years in power has been nothing but a chipping away of the secular foundations that Mustafa Ataturk had laid during his reforms in the 1920s and 1930s. Erdogan’s obsession with Ataturk’s legacy has turned him into a pugnacious and retrograde leader. 

Who is the Hagia Sophia for?

The Hagia Sophia does not belong to musilims and nor does it belong to the Orthodox church. The building is part of UNESCO for a clear reason: it is a gift to all humankind, for believers and non-believers alike. 

While I am sceptical that this greet monument will be turned into a museum anytime soon, I am certain that the desire for a secular Turkey will never die. The President will eventually join other dictators in the ash heaps of history.

Join UN-aligned for a better world.

Take ownership of UN-aligned

Unlike most organisations, UN-aligned is, primarily, its members. We are the New United Nations and though just a drop in the ocean, for now, we will carry on growing until we will become a force to be reckoned with! The more of us there are, the more chance we have of achieving our aims. Help us by promoting membership to you friends or to people you think have similar values. If every member added another, membership would snowball and we would be unstoppable! We also need active members: people who roll up their sleeves and contribute to the work of the organisation. Some already have, for instance, by writing articles for The Gordian, or offering to help with proofreading.

No matter what you can do, we want you. Write to us with your talents and we’ll make it work. 
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on whatsapp


Meet The New Lady Justice

Welcome to the first issue of the 6 volume of The Gordian. It is largely accepted that Lady Justice’s blindfold symbolises impartiality, however, one cannot help comparing the blindfold to that of “blind” Fortune, whose largess is purely random. How else can there be so much injustice in the world? We say no more: Meet our new Lady Justice. This issue offers the usual mix of politics, interviews, culture, and galleries by our UN-aligneders across the world, including Ruby Goldenberg, Carla Pietrobattista, Katharina Wüstnienhaus, Atika Harba, Kaitlyn Rivera, Anahita Ahmadi, Partho Pratim Chatterjee, Sailaja S.P and Aryan Yekrangi. The editors are Adrian Liberto and Ariana Yekrangi.

Subscribe to the The Gordian magazine and more...

The Gordian is the official UN-aligned magazine. It is a round-up of global news, opinions and long reads accompanied by striking photography. It also keeps you updated about UN-aligned’s progress and impact in the real word.

We promise not to spam your inbox.  Find how we use your information.

Or become a free member.

Get The Gordian sent right to your email...
UN-aligned magazine is a round-up of global news, opinions and long reads accompanied by striking photography and insightful companion pieces.
We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at anytime.

UN-aligned uses cookies to make this website better.