Opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque for prayers in this period of pandemic where the public are also facing worsening economic conditions is a calculated step.
The government is trying to arrest the erosion – due to its economic and social policies – of its voter base through whipping up nationalist and conservative reflexes; trying to achieve quick gains by the conquest of easy but meaningful symbols. There is no obstacle to converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque other than diplomatic courtesy but the pretence is that the building is wrestled form an imaginary enemy through a great struggle.
This ‘supposed’ conquest, aiming to compensate for the ever-increasing unemployment, poverty and the despair of the youth will not compensate even for the trauma of losing Istanbul in local elections either. Istanbul is always owned by its worker population and it will remain theirs.
Declaring decisions ahead of judicial institutions, the one-man leadership has started the arguments on Hagia Sophia’s conversion on 29 May, the anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul, and it was declared that they will be praying there on 15 July, the anniversary of the attempted coup. The chair of the Religious Affairs Administration had joined this chorus when he called for reconquering of the mosques as the pandemic measures were being relaxed.
Hagia Sophia is a building of great cultural and artistic value that survived intact for centuries. The fact that its conversion to a mosque could upset workers in the Christian world has not been considered. However, how the reaction of other countries and religious institutions will be used to whip up and unite domestic nationalist conservative reaction had surely been considered.
The political leadership lost its credibility and is in deep trouble. The Hagia Sophia orchestrations are an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Telling people yesterday to “fill up Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) before you ask for Hagia Sophia”, the turnaround by Erdoğan today has no other explanation.
As a party that fights for equality of workers of all religions and nations, fighting for real secularism that recognises the freedom of belief, we condone these politics of tension attempting to create and deepen enmity. We must be attentive towards buildings of religious importance and they should be protected as places of solidarity and shared understanding.
Hagia Sophia cannot and should not be used as political material.
Chair Labour Party