Cornered in all domestic and foreign political matters, unable to manage the economic and social crises, and experiencing a deadlock due to the coronavirus, the AKP-MHP ruling bloc has once again put to misuse historical and cultural assets as a political tool for a way out.
Having tried to influence pious people during electoral campaigns with the agitation of “Let Hagia Sophia be a mosque” and covering up the realities of unemployment and poverty, the government has pushed the limits of international law and cultural conventions of humankind by having the Council of State to pass a decision [on Hagia Sophia]. The Council of State has become a party to a political game by making a decision in line with the orders and political expectations of the government. This is clearly a political decision.
Human history and culture should not be subjected to arbitrary discretions of the government, in Turkey or elsewhere. No state should have the right to claim ownership of and make arbitrary decisions about common cultural heritage of humanity. Serving as bridges between the past and the future, such cultural heritage should not be used by the government as a political playground for material gain or more votes or with the pretext of “security.” This applies to Hagia Sophia as well as Hasankeyf, which is a monumental site of cultural heritage that was destroyed for the sake of a dam.
A 15-century-old heritage of humanity, Hagia Sophia has become a sacred site for both Christian and Muslim communities. This cannot be changed by a state decree and monopolized in the name of one single religion. The Hagia Sophia decision is a political set-up of the government and reflects its unabashedness vis-à-vis cultural heritage.
For the HDP, Hagia Sophia is a part of humanity’s cultural heritage. The decision was taken with religious and nationalist sentiments, and is wrong in both historical and cultural terms. Hence, the Council of State has left a heritage of humanity to the mercy of the AKP government and made itself a part of the AKP’s electoral propaganda machine.
What needs to be done is the immediate repeal of this decision and formation of a new non-state institutional status for Hagia Sophia. At this stage we suggest that an independent panel of experts, who are economically and administratively autonomous from the government and who work under the supervision of the UNESCO, should carry out the protection and preservation of this historical heritage. Hagia Sophia can thus remain a common cultural heritage site for people of all faiths to visit freely and pay their respects. The basic principle should be the protection of such sites from political exploitation and abuse. This applies not only to Hagia Sophia but all historical heritage in Turkey and in the world.
The government should stop simple electoral set-ups and its unabashedness immediately. Hagia Sophia belongs to history and cannot be used as a political playground.
Sevtap Akdağ Karahalı
Spokesperson for Education Policies, Sports, Culture and Art Commission
11 July 2020