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How Hagia Sophia became Turkey’s latest political battleground - DW News.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to turn Istanbul's world-famous tourist site into a mosque. He is trying to score points with Turkish voters, but his plans have encountered considerable resistance.

Hagia Sophia is the symbol of Istanbul and Turkey's most popular tourist attraction. Every year, millions of visitors take in its gigantic brick dome and elaborate frescoes, which have earned the building UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site status.
But Hagia Sophia is more than just an architectural masterpiece: It has always been a political symbol, as well. The monumental structure was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century A.D. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II immediately converted the cathedral into a mosque. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, utilized the church for another act with symbolic significance: In 1935 he turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which conveyed the message that modern Turkey was a secular country.
Now, the current Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is also planning on making symbolic capital out of the building, which is situated in Istanbul's central Fatih district. For many of Erdogan's voters, who tend to have nationalist-Islamist sympathies, Hagia Sophia symbolizes the conquest of Christian Constantinople by the Ottomans, and the superiority of the Islamic world.
President Erdogan appears unfazed by objections, recently telling the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey: "You say to us: 'Please don't turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.' Do you mean Turkey should bow to your will? We await the decision of the Council of State. After that, the necessary steps will be taken."
Erdogan's initiative is seen as an attempt to swing the Turkish electorate back behind the AKP. The majority of polls indicate that the party has lost significant support of late. As a result, Erdogan has in recent months been pushing to galvanize nationalist sentiment among the populace.

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