Erdogan converts Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia church into a mosque

Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the Hagia Sophia church, one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, to be converted into a mosque.

He made the announcement on Friday, hours after a top court cleared the way for him to make the change.

The architectural marvel, a major draw for tourists, was built as a church by the Byzantines in the 6th century and then converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

In 1934, modern secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Cabinet decreed that it be turned into a museum. It is widely regarded as a symbol of peaceful religious coexistence.

Friday’s court ruling invalidates the 1934 decree. It grants Turkey’s president the authority to restore the church to its status as a working Muslim mosque.

Erdogan had previously signaled that he intended to make that change. In his decision Friday, he said the site would be transferred to the Directorate of Religious Affairs and will be open for worship.

When Hagia Sophia issued the Muslim call to prayer on Friday afternoon, a crowd of Muslims in the nearby plaza broke out in cheers. The church has been broadcasting the call to prayer for several years.

The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge sixth-century building.

“We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” the US said in a statement.

“The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” the Russian Orthodox Church said.

UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand”.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief called the decision “regrettable”.

Cypriot Foreign Minister said on Twitter that Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.

Greece branded Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilized world”.

Hamas terror group welcomed the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque: “Opening of Hagia Sophia to prayer is a proud moment for all Muslims.”