July 15, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8847

Following Hagia Sophia's Reversion To Mosque, Turkish Office Of The Presidency Tweets Message Of Openness – While Tweets In Arabic By President Erdoğan Stress Turkey's Active Pan-Islamic Role, Liberation Of Al-Aqsa

July 15, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8847

In a July 10, 2020 decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reversed the 1934 law that converted the Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum, thereby turning it back into a mosque. He also placed the historic structure, which had been under the authority of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, under the authority of the country's Ministry of Religious Affairs.[1]

Tweets issued by the Office of the Turkish Presidency and on Erdoğan's personal Twitter account emphasized different aspects of a half-hour speech President Erdoğan gave that day. The Presidency's tweets, in both Turkish and English, conveyed a message of tolerance and pluralism, stressing that Hagia Sophia will continue to be open to the members of all faiths. Conversely, a tweet in Arabic on Erdoğan's personal Arabic-language page presented Turkey as an active player working tirelessly for the Muslim nation – from Bukhara, Uzbekistan in the east to the Andalusia region of Spain in the west – and for the liberation of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Some news channels in Turkey have already begun to echo Erdoğan's rhetoric about Al-Aqsa.[2]

The Hagia Sophia was completed in 537 as a church under the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It was converted into a mosque in 1453 after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed II, and was converted into a museum in 1935 under the secularist government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey.

In practice, the building has been serving some religious functions for decades: The Islamic call to prayer has reportedly been given from the building since as early as 1980,[3] and noon and afternoon prayers have been held in the Hünkar Kasrı section of the building since 1991.[4] In October 2016, Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs appointed an imam for the mosque in the Hünkar Kasrı section, which from then on was open for Friday services and all five daily prayers.[5]

In his July 10 speech, President Erdoğan said that the building's main space would be used for worship beginning with Friday prayers on July 24.[6] It has been reported that the mosaics and frescoes on the walls of the Hagia Sophia will be covered with curtains or by technological means while Islamic prayers are performed in the space, and uncovered for viewing at other times.[7] Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that two imams and four muezzins would be appointed to the Hagia Sophia.[8] It is estimated that under normal conditions, 3,000-4,000 people will be able to perform Islamic prayers there.[9]

In recent years, President Erdoğan has paired an aggressive foreign policy, including military action in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, and the construction of bases in Qatar and Somalia, with rhetoric that extols past Ottoman and Islamic greatness and connects present Turkish policy to that past. Erdoğan's July 10 speech on the Hagia Sophia was in line with this approach. An English translation given on the official website of the Office of the Presidency reads: "The resurrection of Hagia Sophia heralds the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the footsteps of the will of Muslims across the world to come out of the interregnum." The word "interregnum," defined as "a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes," is used in place of Turkish phrase "fetret devri," which usually refers specifically to the period of Ottoman civil war in 1402-1413, between the rule of Sultan Beyazid I and that of Sultan Mehmed I. The phrase "fetret devri" has also been used by influential Turkish religious scholar Said Nursi and some religious groups in Turkey to refer to the period following the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924.[10] Indeed, commentator Fatin Dağıstanlı said following the decree on the Hagia Sophia that "after this, the caliphate should come."[11] Others have used the phrase "fetret devri" more broadly as a metaphor for infighting among Muslim groups.[12] In his speech, President Erdoğan also connected the conversion of the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque to four battles in which Ottoman and Turkish forces were victorious: "The resurrection of the Hagia Sophia represents our memory full of heydays in our history from Badr[13] to Manzikert,[14] from Nicopolis[15] to Gallipoli."[16]

As stated, following are tweets from Turkey's Office of the Presidency and from Erdoğan's personal accounts in Turkish, English, and Arabic quoting different sections of the speech for different audiences. This report reviews these tweets and their divergent messages.

Erdoğan Tweet In Arabic: "The Revival Of Hagia Sophia [As A Mosque] Heralds The Liberation Of The Al-Aqsa Mosque"

President Erdoğan's personal Arabic-language Twitter account posted a graphic quoting sections of the speech that read: "The revival of Hagia Sophia [as a mosque] heralds the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The revival of Hagia Sophia is a new beginning for Muslims worldwide and heralds the end of the periods of darkness. The revival of Hagia Sophia brings new hope not only to Muslims but to all the oppressed, persecuted, downtrodden and exploited people. The revival of Hagia Sophia is a greeting issued from the bottom of our hearts to all the cities that represent our heritage, from Bukhara to Andalusia. The revival of Hagia Sophia – the trust of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror[17] – [arriving] 70 years after the renewal of the call for prayer,[18] is a new revival [too long] delayed. It is the best response to the loathsome attacks on our values and symbols in every Islamic region. With every step it has taken in the recent period, Turkey has stressed that it is an active rather than passive [player] at this place and time. With the help of Allah the Almighty, we will continue traveling on this blessed path, without stopping, without weariness or fatigue, with determination, sacrifice and persistence, until we reach our hoped-for destination."[19]

The Arabic-language graphic posted on Erdoğan's twitter account

Erdoğan's Arabic-language twitter account stated on July 15: "Hagia Sophia is not the issue. The issue is who has control, by virtue of his sovereignty, over this place of worship and the city in which it is located. We have no intention of relinquishing our 1,000-year presence in this geographic region, nor our 600-year rule of Istanbul."[20]

Presidency Tweet In English: Hagia Sophia's Doors Will Be Open To All; "To What Purposed Hagia Sophia Will Be Utilized Is A Matter Of Turkey's Sovereign Rights"

A graphic tweeted on the English-language account of the Office of the Presidency presented different quotes from the speech. It highlighted that "Hagia Sophia's doors will be, as is the case with all our mosques, wide open to all, whether they be foreign or local, Muslim or non-Muslim," and added that "With its new status, Hagia Sophia, the shared heritage of humanity, will continue to embrace all in a much more sincere and original way." [21] This last sentence was also quoted on the Presidency's Turkish-language account. [22] The English graphic also stressed heavily that making decisions about the status of the monument was the sole prerogative of Turkey as a sovereign country.[23]

The English-language graphic posted on the Presidency's Twitter account


[1], July 10, 2020.

[3], October 20, 2016.

[4], October 21, 2016.

[5], October 20, 2016.

[6], July 10, 2020.

[7], July 12, 2020.

[8], July 12, 2020.

[9], July 13, 2020.

[10], June 24, 2009;, March 4, 2016.

[11], July 12, 2020.

[12], July 29, 2019.

[13] The Battle of Badr, fought in 624, was won by a force of early Muslims led by Muhammad against the Quraish tribe of Mecca.

[14] The 1071 Battle of Manzikert resulted in a Turkish victory over a Byzantine force and opened the way for Turks to enter what is today central Turkey.

[15] The 1396 Battle of Nicopolis resulted in an Ottoman rout of a Crusader army.

[16] The 1915-16 Battle of Gallipoli in World War I resulted in an Ottoman victory over British, French, and Russian forces seeking to gain control of the Dardanelles.

[17] Mehmet II (1432-1481) was the Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453 and turned Hagia Sophia from a church into a mosque

[18] In 1932 the Turkish state banned the Arabic call for prayer and required mosques to make it in Turkish. The ban was lifted in 1950.

[19], July 10, 2020.

[20], July 15, 2020.

[21], July 10, 2020.

[22], July 10, 2020.

[23], July 10, 2020.

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