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Hagia Sophia and Apocalyptic Imagination of Second Conquest of Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia is known as one of the most important Byzantium structures and architectures of all times. It represents the mighty and artistic achievement of Christian era of Roman Empire.

Hagia Sophia was a church for 1,000 years before being converted into a mosque in 1453. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared it a museum in 1935 as part of his campaign to secularize his modern-day Turkish Republic.   

The Hagia Sophia has long been a subject of great debate among religious, political and cultural groups in Turkey. While Turkish liberals and seculars suggest that it should remain as a museum, Erdogan’s AKP and MHP, Nationalist Movement Party are willing to convert it to a Mosque again.

But there are some intellectuals like Professor Mehmet Efe Caman, a columnist for TR724.com which is affiliated with Gulen Movement, suggests that Hagia Sophia should actually be converted to a Church again: ‘Hagia Sophia is the first and largest cathedral of all Christian civilization, not only Eastern Roman (Byzantine) civilization. It is a very extreme position to defend the conversion of this cathedral into a mosque in the 21st century today! It is much more normal to open it as a church than opening it as a mosque. I know that many people will be uncomfortable with this thought. But that’s the right and ethical position!’

Veysel Ayhan, editor in-chief of TR724.com also has similar perspective.

‘We do not know what the reason for Mehmed II was, the Conqueror turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul. What were the political reasons for that at that time? If we come to today, turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque is already a shameful political abuse. The intention is not the sake of Allah. Not to win the hearts of the people. Just to get more votes.’  

But it also has a very symbolic meaning for Turkey’s political Islamists as well as the conservative segments of Turkish society.

For the Turkish Islamists perspective, conversion of Hagia Sophia from a Church to a Mosque symbolizes the contest of Constantinople which is now known as Istanbul. For them, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk cut off Muslims connection with their history and religion. So, Ataturk’s decision turning the Hagia Sophia from Mosque to Museum was a great betrayal to Islamization of Constantinople and Muslim Nation and Ummah. From the Islamist perspective, with that decision, Istanbul fell into a position that has to be conquered again. If Erdogan achieves to turn into a Mosque again, it will be perceived that Istanbul was taken back and conquered again.

It is noteworthy to remember that ISIS has similar views about Istanbul.

According to ISIS, in a prophecy attributed to Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet predicts the Day of Judgment will come after the Muslims defeat Rome at al-`Amaq or Dabiq, two places close to the Syrian border with Turkey.  After that the Muslims will then proceed to conquer Constantinople (Istanbul).

Even though, Turkish Muslims, not infidel Romans, controls Istanbul today, for Turkish Islamist perspective, Istanbul is under the control of seculars, which is CHP, since AKP lost the last local elections in Istanbul last year. But the main problem is not who controls Istanbul today. For the Islamist perspective, turning Hagia Sophia from Mosque to a Museum was a sign of ‘infidelity’ itself which shaped the fundamentals of Ataturk’s modern Turkey.

The resonance of these prophesies was so powerful that they might have affected Turkey’s policies in Syria. Now, Turkey is expanding his forces to Libya. We don’t know Turkey’s new move in Libya has anything to do apocalyptic imagination of confronting Rome.

What is for sure is that second conquer of Istanbul resonates with opening Hagia Sophia as a Mosque again, as well as, expecting the Mahdi, Muslim savior, a spiritual and temporal leader who will rule before the end of the world and restore religion and justice according to Islamic Eschatology.   

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Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist from Turkey, specializing in Political Science and International Relations. He is the author of 13 books, many of which have become bestsellers in Turkey. 'Reporting from the Bridge' and 'Hungry for Power: Erdogan's Witch Hunt and The Abuse of State Power' are the first two books published in English in the U.S

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