Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who on Friday signed a decree converting the ancient Hagia Sophia in İstanbul to a mosque, a year ago rebuffed calls for the monument’s conversion, describing them as a “trap,” according to a video footage circulating on social media.
In the footage Erdoğan is seen giving a televised interview in the presence of young people ahead of the March 31 local elections in 2019. When asked about demands from Islamists concerning the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, he says: “They don’t know the world. They don’t know who they are speaking to. As a political leader, I have not lost my direction to be deceived by this trap.”
The monument. which was a church before the conquest of İstanbul in 1453, became a mosque under Ottoman rule. Since the establishment of secular Turkey in 1923, it has served as a museum open to visitors for a fee.
Back then Erdoğan also said conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque would lead to more disadvantages for Turkey than advantages and hinted that such a move could trigger attacks on mosques in various countries around the world.
He accused those making calls for Hagia Sophia’s conversion of disregarding the possible risks such a move would pose.
Erdoğan’s change of stance regarding the status of the monument is interpreted as a move to increase the declining support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by playing on the nation’s nationalistic tendencies.
Recent polls show support for the AKP, which has been ruling as a single party government since 2002, at around 30 percent.