First prayers at Hagia Sophia will take place on July 24
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the first prayers at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia shrine will take place on July 24. "We plan to open the Hagia Sophia for worshipping on July 24 with Friday prayers," he said.
Built 1,500 years ago, the Orthodox Christian cathedral was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. For nearly 500 years since then, the Hagia Sophia was a mosque, before being converted into a museum in 1935 by a secular government. Islamists in Turkey long called for it to be converted to a mosque but secular opposition members opposed the move.
However, that came to an end after the Turkish Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, on Friday annulled the 1934 government decree that had turned the site into a museum. Shortly afterwards, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagia Sophia.
“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Erdogan, who earlier on Friday signed off on the Religious Affairs Directorate managing the site.
"The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws, ” Erdogan was quoted as saying in a Xinhua report.
The Unesco has said it "deeply regrets" the decision to turn the museum into a mosque and called on the Turkish authorities to "open a dialogue without delay".
Turkey, in the meantime, said it had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and any criticism on the move would be considered an attack on its independence.
The Church in Russia, home to the world's largest Orthodox Christian community, also expressed regret that the Turkish court had not taken its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia.
“The concern of millions of Christians were not heard,” Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said.