Hagia Sophia: Religious or Political Battle

                  

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Hagia Sophia is the most contested building and is facing controversy again. The place is sacred to both Muslims and Christians. It was built as a cathedral church in 6th century AD by a Byzantine king JustinianI and it remained as a church for next thousand years until 1453, when the Ottoman Empire came and the church was converted into a mosque.

This monument remained a mosque till 1934. Kemal Ataturk who was a benevolent dictator and founder of modern Turkey, and wanted turkey to be secular country. The Turkish constitution designed in such a way that politics and religion were kept as separate domain, as he wished.

In 1934 Ataturk converted Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum. In order to stand with principles of secular Turkey and pay equal respect to all the religions. Hence it was a symbol of secularism in Turkey from the time it got independence.

 

Recent Developments

Hagia Sophia is located in heart of city of Istanbul, in Turkey. It is an ancient monument revered by different ideologies over centuries. It had status of a museum till date but now it has been given a status of mosque back. This decision is taken by the elected president of Turkey Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This step taken by Erdogan is a systematic dismantle of century long effort to keep religious co-existence between Islam and Christianity and maintaining secularism in Turkey. This has put question on the rights of minorities like Christians who constitute 1% of turkey’s population and many more.

 

Global Responses

Hagia Sophia is recognized as a museum by UNESCO as world heritage site in 1985.It has expressed deep regrets for this act of cultural cleaning and wanted to initiate a dialogue for the same.

The decision is also opposed by some secular groups, as Hagia Sophia was a place of tourist attraction for approximately 4 million people every year and is blend of mosaic culture and knowledge.

The Russian orthodox church regretted as the Turkish court was not considerate enough. As they see this decision as a threat to Christianity. Everyone believed that it is a violation of religious balance.

USA expressed disappointment over Erdogan’s not so secular step. In addition, tension between Greece and Turkey has escalated over the official status of Hagia Sophia. The Greek culture minister stated that the verdict by the Turkish court is “open provocation of civilized world.”

France, European Union and Cyprus expressed their unhappiness and called this move as regrettable. Despite the criticisms Erdogan received from all over the world, he is determined and addressed that the decision taken 80 years back to convert a mosque into museums was wrong and can be rectified, by resurrection of mosque.

 

Why It Is a Political Question?

The journey of Erdogan can be clearly differentiated in two spheres his rise and downfall. In early years of Erdogan in politics he took positive step which was favorable for him and country. He served as prime minister of 3 terms from 2002 to 2014. Hence, he was seen as modern Muslim.

Turkish PM cannot serve more than 3 terms according to the Constitution. But Erdogan did not want to give up his seat of power. So he stood in presidential l election in 2014 and won.

But Turkish president is a nominal head and does not have much power. Erdogan passed many constitutional reforms to shift the prime ministerial power to president.

Power tends to corrupt. Gradually Erdogan’s attention shifted from his basic job of resolving Turkey’s issue to maintain his seat in power. This led to the crisis in country.

The public was upset and journalists were criticizing Erdogan, that he had destroyed the country in bid to secure power. Everyone who criticized was put behind the bars. This is called as “purges of Erdogan”

Hence, he used religion as an instrument to disguise the naïve population of the country. This helped him to gain the public support and distracted them from real issue like unemployment and economy.

Turkey follows the principles of French secularism but the mass support stands with USA /Indian secularism. Therefore, they want to showcase their religion in public. And here comes the motive and agenda Erdogan wisely used to continue to hold the power.

A latest survey by Arab news stated that 55% of the public see this decision of conversion of museum into mosque again is a cover story for government’s failure.

 

Conclusion

Religion is always used as a tool by governments and authorities to distract the public from major issues the state is going through at any given time, like recession, unemployment, poverty, etc. Hence, for this conflict also religion just became a weapon to cover other issues.

As humans see faith and religion as primary thing, we seek it to be our priority, which we keep above all needs. The very famous Ram temple issue was also raised on the same grounds. The issue has led to decades of communal violence in the country and hatred among the community for each other.

Some people who want political power incited the people on religion. The fact is the fire that is started by some power-seeking politician always ends with common man burning.

If we consider these religious historical buildings, there are so many that have been demolished and a new one is constructed throughout the history of human kind .There are so many mosques replaced by temples and so many temples replaced by churches.

But in the end we should accept it the way it is and let it remain the same even in modern times. In my opinion the only identity that should be kept above all is as human and the only primary religion one should believe is on HUMANITY.

 

Written by – Shalaka Pathak

Edited by – Adrija Saha


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