Recent Case Roundup: On the Turkish Decision on the Kariye Mosque

On November 11, 2019, a division of Turkey’s highest administrative appellate court annulled a presidential decision dated 1945 by Ismet Inonu, the second president of the Turkish Republic and the successor to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding president of the country, that had converted the Kariye Mosque into a museum. Prior to the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans, the site had operated as a Byzantine church.

Months later, on August 20, 2020, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a presidential decision based on the court ruling in 2019, and restored Kariye’s previous status as a mosque open to public worship. Along with the recent restoration of Hagia Sofia as a mosque, Kariye’s reconversion into a mosque has garnered widespread and mixed reaction from various corners of the world.

  • Holger A. Klein, Professor of Medieval Art History and director of the Sakip Sabanci Center for Turkish Studies at Columbia University, describes President Erdogan’s move as “a blunt instrument to score points with his political base.”
  • The Greek Foreign Minister condemned Turkey’s move as “a provocation against all believers,” and added that Greece urged “Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”
  • Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the highest-ranking clergy of the Greek Ortodox Church in the continent, tweeted that “[t]he pleas and exhortations of the international community [were] ignored,” also mentioning what he called Turkey’s “tragic transgression with #HagiaSophia.”
  • Turkish authorities, on the other hand, have responded to criticisms by emphasizing that Turkey was preserving all historical and cultural monuments “meticulously.”

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