Turkey’s Council of State on Thursday put the fate of the former church of Hagia Sophia in the hands of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The court, which convened to discuss whether Hagia Sophia should be converted into a mosque, announced that a decision to change its status “is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers and the president.”
The meeting, which lasted just 17 minutes, discussed the request by several Turkish unions that had appealed against a law by modern Turkey’s secular founder Kemal Ataturk that transformed Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum in 1934. The judges also ruled that the previous decision to protect Hagia Sophia as a museum (2008) was in line with the spirit of the 1934 law.
Turkish reports said the decision, which is now exclusively up to Erdogan, will be announced within 15 days, possibly before the fourth anniversary of the coup attempt in 2016.
Before Thursday's court session, Erdogan spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a discussion that ran the gamut of the complex relationship between Ankara and Berlin, from finance to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Ankara has long insisted that the status of Hagia Sophia is an internal matter, as was evidenced by the response of Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy to the appeal by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the monument not to be converted into a mosque.
The Greek-Turkish aspect of the issue is equally important, especially at a time when efforts are being made to activate channels of communication with Ankara to de-escalate growing tensions in the region.
The 6th-century monument was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and became Christendom’s most important cathedral for almost a millennium before its conversion into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks after the fall of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in 1453.