06/16/2020, 00.00
TURKEY
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Armenian Patriarch: Hagia Sophia open to worship for Muslims, but also for Christians

by Marian Demir

For Sahak Mashalian "the temple is large enough" to be used by both confessions. A decision that would be "applauded" from a "peace" perspective and would make Turkey an example and pride in the world. But 73% of Turks want it as a mosque.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Hagia Sophia in Istanbul "should be open to worship". The appeal to change the use of the much disputed building, originally a basilica, later transformed into a mosque and now a museum as per the will of Kemal Ataturk, this time is not from a Muslim leader but from a high profile Christian personality. Sahak Mashalian, 85th Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, states that "the temple is large enough" for everyone to use and "a small part can be reserved for Christians".

This is yet another chapter in the controversy over Hagia Sophia. The tension around the building recently escalated following the decision, supported by nationalist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to recite an Islamic prayer inside. In the days that followed, a survey was published stating that 73% of Turks would favor transformation into a mosque.

In this incendiary context, the Armenian patriarch proposes a solution that could bring everyone to agreement, as he himself explains. "Saint Sofia was founded - he recalls - thanks to the labour of thousand workers, spending a fortune. Over the 1500 years many repairs have taken place, including the efforts of the Fatih Sultan foundation, everything has been done to protect this temple as a place of worship, and certainly not as a museum ". "I think that kneeling believers - he adds - prostrate themselves with respect and admiration, is more appropriate to the nature of the place than tourists who wander here and there taking pictures".

Patriarch Mashalian says this is why he wishes to propose that “Saint Sophia be open to worship. The site is quite large. And that an area be reserved for Christians ". A decision, he adds, that would end up being "applauded" by the whole world with a view to "peace" and "religious maturity". "May Saint Sophia - he continues - become the symbol of peace for humanity and the current century. Is this, perhaps, a utopia? " he wonders, since "we all worship under the same sky". Can we not "we share the dome of Hagia Sophia in the same way".

The Armenian patriarch reaffirms faith "in one God / Allah" even if "the creed is different", a place that "absorbs a thousand years of Christian prayer and 500yeras of Muslim prayer within its walls, is a synthesis of the mysterious existence and will have no objections to this practice ”. He therefore invites all the faithful to enter, breathe in the silence and learn from it.

Hagia Sophia "is a place of wisdom" and can teach that "there is nothing more precious in the history of humanity through its 1500 years than peace". "We cannot afford the luxury - he concludes - of a new conflict between the cross and the crescent. The salvation of the planet is inherent in the alliance between the cross and thecrescent. And the honor of presenting such peace to the world would be a source of pride for the Republic of Turkey. "

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