Thursday (July 30th): Erdoğan Atatürk or just a populist?

Hagia Sophia

Name? Hagia Sophia 

Westphalian identity? Turkish 

Age? 1483 

Why is she in the news? On Friday, July 24th, The Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul, was reopened by Erdogan as a practising mosque for the first time in 86 years. 

Why do we care? The monument was originally built as a Christian church but was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire. For some of us, the Hagia Sophia symbolises the years of their childhood spent in Istanbul in which we learnt about how Islam can peacefully coexist with Christianity in today’s world: a shift in tone from what Western media had taught us until then. 

Why should you care?  Turkey is seen as one of the more secular countries in the Middle East. A move away from this secular state not only changes the general dynamic within the region, but also the dynamics between the region and the outside world. 

Who else cares? Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis! Given that Greece is home to millions of Orthodox Christians for which the Hagia Sophia represents a major site, this was a slap across the face; especially given Turkey and Greece’s complex history. To make matters worse, the mosque happened to hold its first prayers on Friday – the same day that Greece celebrated 46 years of restored democracy…Greek businesses are now starting an informally organised boycott on Turkish goods and services.

Any further comments? In reopening the Hagia Sophia as a mosque and covering any Christian symbols, Erdogan signals a desire to move away from a secularist government. While Erdogan intended this as a show of power across the band, the move seems to indicate a sign of desperation. Erdogan may feel himself losing his grip on various domestic and international matters and as such, has decided to politically weaponise an otherwise secular symbol. The goal is to further appeal to his Muslim-majority home base but it appears that Erdogan has won only temporary points.

Johanna Katherina Jakobi

Research and Analysis Intern