Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The world famous monument of Byzantine architecture. View of the St. Sophia Cathedral at sunset. AdobeStock/LALSSTOCK

It doesn’t matter what Turkey does with the Hagia Sophia

Because historically, it’s theirs.

I’ve seen some petitions making the social media rounds today about the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. Erin O’Toole tweeted about it, and the Pope said he was disappointed.

The Pope saying he’s disappointed in the museum being turned into a mosque and instigating the global Christian community to campaign against the change is basically the reasoning for The Crusades.

The building is in Turkey, and regardless of its history, it still belongs to the Turkish government.

Here’s my thought – it works out a little bit like and equation of historical events.

The building was completed in 537 AD under Emperor Justinian I.
The Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian cathedral, converted to a mosque in 1453, and, converted to a museum in 1934, three years after Constantinople became Istanbul.

The Roman Empire close to the height of it’s strength.

Rome adopted Christianity in 313 AD.
To circumvent a long and convoluted history of Rome:
The Roman Empire we know lasted roughly from 27 BC – 476 AD.
The Byzantine Empire followed and claimed power in the Eastern Roman world in 480 AD

The Byzantine Empire – covering most of what was once the Eastern Roman Empire.

“The Eastern Roman Empire, usually described by modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, survived for another millennium until it collapsed when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks of Sultan Mehmed II in 1453,” (Wikipedia).

The growth of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire actually lasted into the 20th century and was forcibly dissolved after the end of WWI due to their alliance with Germany. After WWI, the Empire lost control of its Middle Eastern territory and the territory was divided between the UK and France.

The gradual fall of the Ottoman Empire

Based on where it is, it makes sense for the Hagia Sophia to be a Mosque.

For a snapshot of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s:
“The empire allied with Germany, hoping to escape from the diplomatic isolation which had contributed to its recent territorial losses, and thus joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers.”
“The successful Turkish War of Independence led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk against the occupying Allies led to the emergence of the Republic of Turkey in the Anatolian heartland and the abolition of the Ottoman monarchy.” (Wikipedia)
The Republic of Turkey was established on October 29 1923. Historically, Turkey is the remains of the Ottoman Empire. They abolished the monarch as ruler in 1922 and started reforming the governance structure in the new territory.

Turkey has been Islamic territory since 1453, “The Ottoman Empire included so much of the territory where Islam was practiced, and so many of the Islamic holy places, that Suleiman* was widely regarded as the religious leader of Islam, as well as the earthly ruler of most Muslims.” (BBC)

*Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 -66, but the Islamic territory fact remained true. During the Arab Revolt in 1916, the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. The Ottoman Empire was not exclusively Islamic, and Christinas living in Ottoman territory have a history of persecution.
But that’s a much longer story. Go Google it now.

The point of all this is that Turkey can realistically use the Hagia Sophia for whatever it wants.

Yesterday (Sunday), the Pope said he was “very saddened” that the Hagia Sophia would be turned into a mosque.

Pope ‘deeply pained’ over Turkey’s move on Hagia Sophia Pope Francis says he was hurt by mosque decision, but Turkish government defends its ‘sovereign rights’.

“The World Council of Churches has called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse his decision and Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, called it disappointing.” (Al Jazeera)

Like I said at the top of this thread, and hopefully, the reason you’ve read this far, is that the Pope’s reasoning is basically the same reason Christianity embarked on the Crusades.

“The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims started primarily to secure control of holy sites considered sacred by both groups.” (History. com)

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims started primarily to secure control of holy sites considered sacred by both groups.

I’m sure we all know a bit about the long and bloody history of the crusades.
There’s a lot of blood in all these stories. The fall of Rome, the fall of Constantinople, the Crusades, the genocides committed by the Turks.
It’s all history, but the Hagia Sophia is still IN Turkey.

“The Hagia Sophia’s doors will remain open to visitors from all around the world,” Erdogan’s press aide Fahrettin Altun said Saturday. “People of all religious denominations are welcome and encouraged to visit it” (Al Jazeera)

People are treating this as a geopolitical move on Erdogan’s part. But realistically, the lash-back from orthodox Christians (who haven’t worshipped in the space since 1453) seems to be, in the context of 2020, specifically anti-Muslim.

This is all similar in nature (not action) to the Crusades, which sought to reclaim the “holy land.”
Those weren’t great, and it won’t be clear whose God is the true God until we die.
Thankfully, we don’t still live in a world of Knights full of God-power who righteously retake citadels.

At this point in history, when Turkey, a majority Islamic country, turns an old mosque into a… mosque, it isn’t the time to peacock your disappointment at a defeat from 567 years ago.
Hopefully no countries invade Turkey over this.

Turkey isn’t tearing down the structure, it’s still a heritage site, you can still visit. It’s just not a non-denominational museum.

The Pope’s comments were anti-Muslim and ignorant, and the orthodox preachers supporting him are equally as bigoted.

“Bishop Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for external church relations,” said to Al Jazeera that it was “a blow to global Christianity”

In the same article, Greek Orthodox Church Archbishop Ieronymos described it as the “instrumentalisation of religion to partisan or geopolitical ends”.

Instead of the mosque reopening (museum conversion), there are other Turkey-related things to pay attention to.

Let’s talk about Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish territory in Iraq and Syria and how they’re on the verge of another of those “genocide” things.

Turkey launches major attack on Kurdish militants in IraqGround and air operation targets 150 suspected PKK positions, Ankara says

To conclude this piece through the Canadian lens. I mentioned it at the top, but I wrote this thread because of the aforementioned Facebook petitions, and because Erin O’Toole tweeted about it.

It’s a softball International thing, but also NOT one I want to see any wanna-be politician commenting on on behalf of Canada.

We really don’t have a car in this race, and there are more important international issues to take a stance on. This one is pure emotion, not logic. I know why a Conservative candidate would comment, but it find it extremely off-putting.


This article was originally a Twitter thread.
You can find the original thread here:

And you can find the full unrolled thread here:

Written by
Jack Fisher

Jack Fisher is an independent journalist. He holds a BAH from the University of Guelph, and a post-graduate certificate from Sheridan College in journalism.
@Jack_Fisher_4 on Twitter and Instagram

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Written by Jack Fisher