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Ankara unfolds Hagia Sophia card against COVID-19 crisis

Erdogan’s government has signaled it could consider turning the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque as part of religious messages aimed at keeping its voter base intact under the strain of economic turmoil, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 18: Hagia Sophia and its surroundings remain empty during the third day of the 4-day coronavirus restrictions imposed to stem the novel COVID-19 pandemic in Istanbul, Turkey on May 18, 2020. (Photo by Erhan Sevenler/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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“We’ve been longing for it! But a little more patience. We’ll make it together,” the Turkish president’s communication chief, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted May 10. The subject of his yearning was revealed in a picture attached to the tweet: the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul. And the promise of success was about a decades-old “cause” of Turkey’s Islamists — converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque — which they have inflamed at times and damped down at others, depending on their political interests.

The Hagia Sophia — “Holy Wisdom” in Greek — was built as a church during Byzantine times in 537 and functioned as such for 916 years before the Ottomans conquered Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and converted the edifice into a mosque on the same day. Almost half a millennium later, on Nov. 24, 1934, the Hagia Sophia became a museum by a Council of Ministers decree under the modern Turkish republic.

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