10th July 2020, a Turkish Court order approved Hagia Sophia’s convertion from a museum to an operational mosque.
For many Christians around the world, aborting a historical monument that represented the centuries of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox with Ottoman faith-inspired culture in the region, to having it reclaimed as a faith space for Islam, is a vilifying act of disrespect. The region has been affected by territorial tensions for millenia and many in the Balkan and Western Asia Minor, have experienced relocations, marginalisation, faith based extradition, torture and incarceration.
It is a non surprise western Turkey struggles with their record on human rights abuses, and corruption has been developmental to the Greek economy even in modern times.
Looking past the historicity of the region, and the unsettled air Erdoğan’s latest move has created, I can attest to the following:
– Erdoğan has three years left before the next election.
– The Hagia Sofia move was his check mate to Europe beyond the Greco-Turkish spats.
– Erdoğan doesn’t want to join EU (and all the monitoring and regulations), the EU will not have Turkey as it is today, but to make sure they don’t interfere, he needed to growl over his territory.
– Putin will turn a blind eye, despite Russia’s Orthodox Church affinity. Faith is only useful when it serves one’s interests by masking transparency. Christian links to the European church history are problematic for Putin’s and Erdoğan’s dark and underhanded populist and divisionary operations.
– Unmonitored, anyone challenging Erdoğan like the Kemalists, will end up in jail or dissappear.
– Turks in Turkey, Germany and the UK love Erdoğan. He took power and water to the favelas. He is making profits from the Syrian refugees that have no labour rights but plenty of will to do whatever yet not get paid or paid scraps of peanuts when they do (a 10th of the Turkish labour rates according to reports).
Noone wants drama on their doorstep. Turning adversity to positive stories is a way for populist governments to get away with the uttermost abuse of human rights.
Minorities and culture are the capital nasty regimes use for political coercion.
Coercion to domestic opposition, and coercion in international relations contexts.
Threatening securities makes vulnerable populations anxious and puts actor resources at high risk and alert. This costs actors money and make populations more predatory between them. Double win.
Hagia Sophia is the starting line of an incredibly narcissistic performance we will expect to see from Erdoğan in the next three years.
I can only hope there will be limited loss and blood lost in the process, but not set on having any hopes at this point.
In the middle of a pandemic, reclaiming a museum to a faith institution is a bold move.
To be continued…