July 31, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8874

Russia's Reactions To Turkey's Decision To Turn Hagia Sophia Back Into A Mosque, Part II: Russian Commentator Akopov: 'Two Romes Have Fallen, The Third Stands... That Is, There Is No Longer Constantinople – There Is Istanbul'

July 31, 2020
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8874

In a July 14 article titled "Can Hagia Sophia Unites Russians and Turks?", Petr Akopov, a lead commentator for the Russian news agency, argued that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had freed Turkey from the militant secularism of Ataturk in the same way that Russia had been liberated from the militant atheism of Communism. According to Akopov, Ataturk, whom he described as the "Turkish Lenin," was to blame for removing Islam from the public agenda and keeping it under state control.

Similar views were expressed by the pro-military Telegram channel "Major and General," which warned that it would be "very foolish" for Russia to start an "Orthodox jihad" because of Hagia Sophia and that Moscow had no reason to back the pro-U.S. pawns of the Greek Church. The channel added that had Russia intervened against Erdoğan's decision, it would have backed not Orthodoxy but secularism, and concluded: "And the most important thing: Even the loudest statements will not affect the situation in any way. So why sacrifice the interests of Russia in favor of a losing game, while protecting not the values of 'Russian civilization' but the secular ideals of Ataturk."[1]

Furthermore, according to Akopov, it is wrong to think that Russia should have had intervened and stopped Erdoğan from changing Hagia Sophia's status. He wrote: "Putin and Erdogan have indeed developed very close and trusting relations, but they are based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other's affairs." He stressed that Russia, a firm proponent of sovereignty, should respect Turkey's rights to exercise sovereignty over its internal affairs.

Leading foreign policy intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov agreed. In comments on Hagia Sophia's new status, he said: "Constantinople fell [to the Turks] around 500 years ago. And, I'm sorry for the cynicism, but maybe it's time to get used to the fact that Hagia Sophia is not an Orthodox church. Actually, until 1934 it was a mosque. These are the internal dynamics of Turkey... this is Turkish territory and Turkey's building too. Therefore, one can be indignant, but, strictly speaking, there are no grounds for the claims."[2]

Also in his article, Akopov quoted from the 1510 panegyric letter from the Russian monk Philotheus (Filofey) of Pskov to Moscow's Grand Duke Vasili III, which proclaimed: "Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!" He added that these words should remind us that there is no longer Constantinople – there is Istanbul.  

Akopov concluded by stating that "the self-claimed contender for the title of the 'fourth Rome'" – i.e. the U.S. – is entering the final stage of its history, whereas Moscow – the Third Rome – and the Turks have no quarrels now. He then asserted that the "two great civilizations [Russia and Turkey] have embarked on the path of rebirth, and they certainly have no place in a museum."

Below are excerpts of Akopov's article:[3]

The fall of Constantinople in 1453. Troops of Mehmet II storming the capital city of the Roman Byzantine Empire. Panorama Museum 1453, Istanbul.

Petr Akopov (Source:

Can't The Turks Do What They Want In Their Own Country?

"The Turks turned the most important Orthodox cathedral in the world, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, into a mosque. So Russia must defend the Christian faith and punish Turkey! Sounds about right, doesn't it?

"However, the Ottomans transformed the temple into a mosque in 1453, after they conquered Constantinople, and [created] on the site of the former Roman Empire (Byzantine) the Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Caliphate), which ruled most of the Islamic world until the beginning of the 20th century.

"The Ottoman Empire fell after the First World War; in its ruins, the Turks barely managed to preserve at least their national state – the Republic of Turkey. In this secular, westernized state, the religion of Islam did not experience the repressions and pogroms of Orthodoxy in Russia. However, the 'Turkish Lenin,' Ataturk, removed it away from the public agenda and kept it under state control. One of [Ataturk's] important symbolic decisions was transforming Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum. The Byzantine frescoes discovered there began to attract millions of tourists...

"Recep Erdoğan, who has been ruling the country for 17 years, is gradually establishing Turkey as a sovereign Islamic power, pursuing an independent policy both within the country and on the world stage. An important symbolic decision was to return the status of a mosque to Hagia Sophia...

"Indeed, three-quarters of Turkey's population supports Erdogan's decision, despite the fact that his own popularity is much lower. So, can't the Turks do what they want in their own country?

"It turns out that the answer is 'no.' At first a number of countries tried to prevent Turkey from taking this step, and later expressed regret and concern about Erdogan's decision. The Greeks, who consider themselves the heirs of Byzantium, demanded EU and international sanctions against Turkey, because Hagia Sophia is not a Greco-Turkish issue, but a global issue..."

Putin-Erdogan Relations Are Based On Mutual Respect And Non-Interference In Each Other's Affairs

"The position of the Russian Orthodox Church [ROC] could not be different – Russia considers itself the Third Rome, after the fall of the Second Rome [Constantinople]. Hagia Sophia will forever remain, for the Orthodox [Church], a symbol of the great Orthodox Byzantine empire, the empire built by Constantine the Great and Saint Helena. Thus, protecting Hagia Sophia is a natural duty for the ROC, even if there is no chance to make it an Orthodox church again.

"But the position of the Russian state is different: although the Kremlin is concerned about the future of Hagia Sophia, it does not feel entitled to tell Turkey how to behave, or even to threaten it. As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said on Monday, 'we consider this [the Hagia Sophia issue] to be Turkey's internal affair, in which, naturally, neither we nor others should interfere' ...

"That is, Russia is pressuring Turkey, despite the fact that, according to the European press, Vladimir Putin was the only one who could dissuade Erdogan from taking such a step. But this is a wrong assumption: Putin and Erdogan have indeed developed very close and trusting relations, but they are based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other's affairs. Thus, Putin, in principle, could not tell Erdoğan how to deal with Hagia Sophia, although they discussed the matter...

"In recent decades, Turkey-Russia relations have been constantly improving. Moreover, we are talking not only about bilateral ties, but also about actions on the world stage. Even though in Syria our countries were, in fact, on different sides of the front lines, dialogue and willingness to compromise were possible for one simple reason: Putin and Erdoğan are independent and strong state leaders, defending the interests of their countries and aiming to strengthen them.

"The strategic goals of Putin and Erdogan coincide: Both Turkey and Russia see themselves as important participants in the construction of a new world order, a post-Western world. Therefore, they try to resolve even objective contradictions and disagreements in the interests of the two countries, because Putin and Erdogan both understand that the strategic Russia-Turkey interaction benefits both countries and can strengthen each of them..."

Moscow Became The Third Rome Not Just For The Orthodoxy, But For The Whole World

"For Russians, Hagia Sophia has always been the most important part of our identity: The cathedral was a symbol of the Orthodox faith. For many years [after the fall of Constantinople,] Hagia Sophia was a symbol of the Russia-Turkey conflict: we wanted to transform it back into a church. But the past cannot be brought back, or changed. Moreover, the fundamental postulate of our statehood says that 'two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth.' That is, there is no longer Constantinople – there is Istanbul. Moscow became the Third Rome not just for Orthodoxy, but for the whole world.

"The self-proclaimed contender for the title of the 'fourth Rome,' the U.S., is entering the final stage of its history before our very eyes. Moscow – the Third Rome – and the Turks, from whose hands Constantinople fell (although the sultans considered themselves to be the successors of the Byzantine emperors), by and large have no quarrels now.

"Hagia Sophia can divide us, or it can unite. It will remain for us a memory of our Orthodox roots, and for the Turks [it will be] a symbol of their victories and their faith. Two great civilizations have embarked on the path of rebirth, and they certainly have no place in a museum."


[1], July 7, 2020.

[2], July 15, 2020.

[3], July 14, 2020.

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