Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on March 29 that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia should be renamed a mosque instead of a museum after March 31 elections, but did not say whether the status of the landmark site would be changed.
Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the most important church in Christendom for 900 years before becoming one of Islam’s greatest mosques for 500 years until 1935, when it was converted to a museum.
In 2014, amid rumors of a possible change, senior Erdogan adviser Ibrahim Kalin said there were no plans to change the monument’s status.
In the lead-up to local elections on March 31, Erdogan has brought up the issue of Hagia Sophia several times.
“After elections, we will change Hagia Sophia’s name from museum to mosque,” he told a crowd in Istanbul at an election rally on March 29. “We have some plans and we are going to implement these plans.”
Erdogan made the same statement in a television interview on March 27.
On March 28, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned Erdogan’s comments earlier this week on the museum.
“Hagia Sophia bears profound historical and spiritual significance to Muslims and Christians alike, and its status as a museum must be maintained,” USCIRF Chair said in a statement.