Turkey has finally announced the reconversion of Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia into a mosque and opened it for worship, drawing huge outcry across the world.
The annulment of a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum paved the way to the announcement, reports AP.
Meanwhile, the UNESCO, that declared the establishment as a world heritage site, called on Turkey to abide by its “legal commitments and obligations” in accordance with its status as a museum, on the World Heritage List.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed a decree handing control of the building over to the nation’s religious directorate, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum.
The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians. Originally a cathedral, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque after Istanbul's conquest by the Ottoman Empire but had been a museum for the last 86 years, drawing millions of tourists annually.
There was jubilation outside the terracotta-hued structure with cascading domes and four minarets. Dozens of people awaiting the court's ruling chanted "Allah is great!" when the news broke.
In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.
Turkey's high administrative court threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled the 1934 Cabinet decision that turned the site into a museum. Within hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey's Religious Affairs Presidency.
He posted the decree on his Twitter account, with the words "may it be beneficial."
Erdogan had spoken in favor of turning the hugely symbolic UNESCO World Heritage site back into a mosque despite widespread international criticism, including from the United States and Orthodox Christian leaders, who had urged Turkey to retain its status as a museum as a symbol of solidarity among faiths and cultures.