Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday in a statement published on state-run Anadolu news agency, that Islamic prayers and recitals will be held at Hagia Sophia today to commemorate the Fall of Constantinople as part of celebrations organised by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Erdoğan continually uses the threat of turning the Christian Orthodox Cathedral, now a museum, into a mosque to appease Turkish Islamists and to distract the public from his own catastrophic failures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the declining economy, and the increasing body count of Turkish soldiers during their failed invasions of Syria and Libya.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 537 but turned into a mosque following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople May 29, 1453. It was then turned into a museum in 1935 shortly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Turkish Republic.
Although Constantinople was just a shadow of its former self after the Catholic Fourth Crusade in 1204 which destroyed the city and resulted in the empire’s rapid decline, it still took the Ottoman army of 100,000 53 days to capture the city from only 10,000 defenders.
With the eventual collapse of the city, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II allowed his soldiers three days to loot the city that saw thousands of women raped, widespread murder, and 30,000 civilians enslaved.
According to the Venetian surgeon Nicolò Barbaro, “all through the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city.”
Turkish social media users however realise that Erdoğan is using the day that signifies mass rape, murder and enslavement to distract the Turkish people from his own failures, with Can Okar saying “it’s the perfect political football.”
There's not much left to rally the base anymore so building an Islamic narrative around the Hagia Sofia is electoral catnip.
Expect incredible aerial shots and overly-wrought emotional footage tomorrow. If I didn't know better, I'd say they were gearing up for an election.
— Can Okar (@canokar) May 28, 2020
Elmira Bayrasli said that the move for Islamic prayers in Hagia Sophia is “an act of desperation and will lead to no good.”
This is an act of desperation and will lead to no good. https://t.co/S5n7Q0ABlX
— Elmira Bayrasli (@endeavoringE) May 28, 2020
However, despite some outrage, there is also widespread celebration that Islamic prayers will be occurring inside the ancient Christian Cathedral that is considered one of the most beautiful structures in Constantinople.
Opposite the Hagia Sophia is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque, constructed in 1616 with the aim of rivaling Hagia Sophia. However this goal fell well short of achieving this and is today famed with tourists for having a pungent smell, as said in many Trip Adviser reviews.
It is not yet known whether Erdoğan will make the permanent move to establish the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque permanently, but it could be part of a desperate move to regain a lot of lost popularity.