OCTOBER 1, 2020


Hagia Sophia is more valuable than any individual.

Toying with history, playing politics, claiming national sovereignty, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

As expected, that drew emotional, rigorous, and social reaction worldwide. UNESCO issued a statement complaining that it was not consulted over a drastic change of a cultural heritage. Pope Francis announced at the Vatican that he "was thinking of Hagia Sophia."

The Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Eastern Antioch and other churches worldwide have stressed the role of Hagia Sophia as a historical cathedral. Certain Muslim countries were caught between regional politics and diplomatic courtesy. Whatever President Erdogan aimed to accomplish will have a negative impact and unforeseen consequences. Walking down the Istanbul neighbourhood where he was raised, chatting with a poor bakery worker indicating his earlier poor roots to gain popular support, positioning himself or trying to reinvent himself as a "sultan" did not seem to impress even those in Turkey. Obviously, he has his local followers. Yet he will find out that he will have reduced influence and will face unnecessary difficulties with the rest of the world. Certain "national" issues have implications across the borders. In an interconnected world, no country can decide alone on questions of political cultural and historic interest to others, particularly in its own region, without eroding its own national interests.

President Erdogan proudly -- and perhaps rightly -- recalls his own country's Ottoman history. It would be even wiser for him to recall earlier empires, like Roman, Greek, Persian, Hapsburg and more recent others that once ruled the world and are now history. Hagia Sophia will always remain as a symbol of Christian and Muslim joint tolerance and a beacon of a most valuable human legacy. .