On Friday, the 10th division of the Turkish Supreme Court annulled the 1934 cabinet decision by which Hagia Sophia in Istanbul held a status as a museum, paving the way for the monument to be used again as a mosque after 85 years.
A non-governmental organization in Istanbul had filed a petition with the Council of State seeking the revocation of the decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum, after operating as a mosque for almost 500 years.
The court heard the parties’ arguments at a hearing on July 2 before issuing its decision.
According to the court ruling, Hagia Sophia belonged to an institution founded by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque.
The decision states that in the notarial instrument on the title, the Hagia Sophia has been designated a “mosque” and this cannot be changed legally.
The community to which the mosque was given cannot be prevented from exercising its rights and benefits through the old real estate it inherited by the institution, the decision states.
The Court concluded that it was not legally possible to use the building as anything other than a mosque, as defined in the notarial instrument.
During the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia had been used as a church for 916 years. In 1453, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, known as the Conqueror.
As a unique treasure trove of world architecture, Hagia Sophia underwent restoration work during the Ottoman era, including the addition of a minaret for the invitation to prayer by the famous architect Mimar Sinan.
In 1935, when the Turkish Republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Hagia Sophia received its status as a museum. In recent years, Turkish leaders have called for its re-use as a mosque and allowed the reciting of the Quran there on special occasions.
Announcing the decision of the 10th Department of the Council of State, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the transfer of Hagia Sophia to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for its opening to worship, which was published in the Government Gazette.
The decision recalled that the resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 1934 on the conversion of the Hagia Sophia mosque into a museum was annulled by a decision of the 10th Department of the State Council.
In this context, it was reported that the management of the Hagia Sophia mosque was transferred to the Ministry of Religious Affairs in accordance with Article 35 of Law no. 633 on the establishment and duties of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. /ibna