Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked his aides to conduct a comprehensive study on how to convert İstanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia landmark, currently a museum, into a mosque, the Middle East Eye reported on Friday, citing local media.
During a top party meeting earlier this week, Erdoğan noted that Hagia Sophia was reopened as a museum in 1935 by cabinet decision and said it should be up to the nation itself to reverse that decision. The report published by the Hürriyet daily said Erdoğan wants to maintain Hagia Sophia as a tourist attraction like the neighboring Blue Mosque but open it up to Islamic prayers.
One senior ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) official disputed the report and said Erdoğan had not ordered the study.
“We were discussing a similar court case before the Council of State that has opened the way for Islamic prayers in the Chora Church,” the official said. “There were only expressions of wishes.”
Last year the Council of State ruled that the Chora Church building in Istanbul was endowed as a mosque under special legal circumstances during the Ottoman Empire and that it was the state’s responsibility to preserve its intended form as a mosque.
Erdoğan has taken several steps to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque since last year, when he declared his intention to change its current form during an election rally.
Last week the Turkish government celebrated the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul with an Islamic prayer at Hagia Sophia.