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Art history experts are expressing alarm at a court ruling in Turkey that the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia – which has been a museum and contains irreplaceable examples of its time period – must be converted to a mosque.
There, Andrew Finkel wrote that the famous structure in Trabzon, a city along the Black Sea, will be converted to a mosque following an extended battle over its use.
Finkel is alarmed, however, because “many in Turkey believe that the Church of Hagia Sophia is a stalking horse for the possible re-conversion of its more famous namesake in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia Museum.”
“A building covenanted as a mosque cannot be used for any other purpose,” Mazhar Yildirimham, of the General Directorate of Pious Foundations, said in the report. The organization made the claim that the structure is “an inalienable part of the foundation of Sultan Mehmed II,” who reportedly originally took over the church building and turned it into a mosque in 1462.
Yildirimham said in the report regarding the walls that are covered with Christian art, “There are modern techniques for masking the walls.”
The structure for the last 50 years has been run by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It also had been used as an arsenal and a cholera hospital in the mid 1900s.
It was rescued from dereliction, the report said, by experts from the University of Edinburgh who restored the original ground plan.
The Art Newspaper said Antony Eastmond, of England’s Courtauld Institute of Art, and an authority of the building, said, “This is the most complete surviving Byzantine structure; there is no 13th century monument like it.”
It’s not the only structure undergoing a remake, the report said.
“In January, Istanbul’s oldest surviving church, the fifth-century St. John Stoudios, which became the Imrahor Mosque in the 15th century before fire and earthquake left it in ruins, was transferred from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the General Directorate, which plans to rebuild it as a mosque.”
“Recent experience suggests that the directorate reconstructs mosques without regard for the millennia of history they contain,” the art report said.
At Jihad Watch, Islam expert Robert Spencer noted, “Islamic supremacists regard the pre-Islamic past of any Muslim country as worthless trash … not to be preserved for its archaeological value, but effaced as an insult to Islam.
“This is the same impulse that led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan,” he wrote.