The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Fredi Winkler

The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque seems to have a significant symbolic meaning for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was the largest and most important Greek Orthodox Church before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. Hagia Sophia was of similar significance for Greek Orthodox Christians, as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome has been for Catholics. The transformation of the magnificent church into a mosque proved to be a traumatic event for Greek Orthodox Christians, but for the Ottomans, a symbol of victory over Christians. This remained so until 1934, after the Turkish Empire had come to an inglorious end in World War I, and Turkey became a newly formed, secular state under Ataturk. At that time, the imposing historic building from the Byzantine period was then converted into a museum. Now Erdogan wants to undo that. What does this signify?

Erdogan said on his website: “The resurgence of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is the prelude to the liberation of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. It is the footprint of the will of all Muslims worldwide, and the resurgence of the fire of hope of all Muslims and of all humiliated, oppressed, and exploited.” This proclamation makes one pause.

In his message, Erdogan talks not only about freedom for the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but also, depending on which language it is translated into, about a revival of Islam from Bukhara in Uzbekistan to Andalusia in Spain.

The connection of Hagia Sophia to Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem shows that Ankara’s ambitions extend far beyond Hagia Sophia.

In Israel, developments in Turkey are being watched with concern. It was hoped that the relationship with Turkey could be rebalanced, as it was once very good. But by now, Israel has realized that this can no longer be accomplished. So far, Israel has avoided confrontation with Turkey, because trade relations are still very important and extensive for both sides. 

Israel’s gas discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea, and the planned gas pipeline from the Mediterranean to Europe, in cooperation with Cyprus and Greece, have been met with resentment by the Turks. Turkey began its own drilling in the disputed waters of the Mediterranean, and wants to expand its dominion in the sea. Turkey’s interference in the civil war in Libya is yet another attempt to expand its influence in the Mediterranean.

Israel has always seen Iran as the great threat—and rightly so, because Iran has been talking bluntly about the destruction of the Jewish State for many years—but has somewhat ignored developments in Turkey. Although Turkey and Iran have been rather hostile in the past, common purpose and ideology have brought them closer together. This development, of course, must be extremely alarming and worrisome for Israel.

Another cause for concern for Israel is the fact that the United States has so far failed to fully recognize this threat from Turkey. President Trump’s policy is to stay out of conflicts that do not directly affect America, and to bring its own troops home. A policy that can be understood, but which would particularly cost Israel very dearly. The following words from the Bible are a strong consolation in this situation: “…He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).

News from Israel - 09/2020

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