A top Turkish court has revoked the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be reconverted into a mosque.
The Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish religious organisation, on Friday cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and ruled the sixth-century building would be reopened to Muslim worship.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
“It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” Turkey’s top administrative court said in a ruling.
“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.
Erdogan shared on his Twitter feed a copy of the decree he had signed which said the decision had been taken to hand control of the Ayasofya Mosque, as it is known in Turkish, to the country’s religious directorate and reopen it for worship.
Hayırlı olsun. pic.twitter.com/MzP6nzn9Jc
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 10, 2020
Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
In 1935, in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it became a museum.
In response to the ruling, the Russian Orthodox Church on Friday said the decision could lead to even greater divisions.
The United States, Russia and Greece, along with UNESCO, had expressed concerns ahead of the ruling.
Erdogan earlier this month rejected international criticism as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.