Prayer in front of the basilica, now a museum, led by a Saudi imam from Mecca. An attempt to collect petition with millions of signatures to force the government to re-open it as a mosque. The celebrations of the conquest of Constantinople began in the 1950s with Adnan Menderes, who was deposed in the 1960s and hanged. Erdogan restored the festival in memory of the conquest to realize his neo-Ottoman dream.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Thousands of Muslims have asked to be able to pray in the ancient Christian basilica of Saint Sophia, demanding that it be converted into a mosque.
An imam came especially from Mecca to lead the prayer in front of the building, transformed into state monument and a museum at the birth of the Turkish republic. The large group shouted slogans such as: "Break the chains; open Saint Sophia! ".
Chairman of the Anatolian Youth, Salih Turhan, said that the request to "pray in the Hagia Sophia mosque" is made "in the name of hundreds of thousands of our brothers."
The prayer and the demonstration in front of the Christian basilica are just one of many events that took place on May 29 in Istanbul for the celebration of 563 years since the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. The name of Constantinople was changed to Istanbul only in the 1930s.
On May 29, 1453 the heart of Orthodox Christianity fell to the Ottoman Turks, by order of Muhammad Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque.
This custom of celebrating the anniversary celebrations began in Republican Turkey in the1950s, when the then Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, launched festivities to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople.
According to the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Menderes was political father of the ruling AKP party.
Adnan Menderes was the first non- Kemalist head of government elected by universal suffrage, taking over from Kemal’s successors, after the imposition of parliamentary democracy by the allies, against the Kemalists one-party CHP. The Menderes Democratic Party expressed the will of certain people in Turkey for greater liberation of Turkish society.
The beginning of the Menderes government was characterized by the desire to reform the monolithic Kemalist state, also opening towards minorities. His visit to the Phanar to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1952 was historic.
After a blazing start full of promise, despite his three consecutive victories in the years 1950, 1954 and 1957, the Menderes government was unable to meet the expectations of his constituents and gradually slipped towards a policy of populism and nationalism. Moreover, it favored riots against minorities, especially the Greek Orthodox, with the " complicity"of the Kemalist deep state, thereby also giving rise to the end of the Orthodox Christian presence in Turkey.
With the military coup of 1960 by the colonels, his government was overthrown and he was sentenced to death by hanging.
After that, the celebrations for the conquest of Constantinople were put on the backburner because the Kemalists considered it an Ottoman legacy.
Once established in power, Erdogan has once again revoked celebrations for the conquest of Constantinople, seeing them as the opportunity to present himself as the new leader of the new neo-Ottoman Turkey, trying to impose changes to the Turkish constitution, transforming it into presidential republic.
All the "party" slogans - in addition to those of the prayer in front of the Hagia Sophia - referred to him as the only one able to revive the neo-Ottoman dream in this region of great geopolitical importance.
In a historical context this reveals his will to impose himself and a new conquest, forgetting - as some Turkish intellectuals point out - that "yes Constantinople was conquered militarily, but we Turks have never been able to really feel it as our own" .
Meanwhile, the Muslims who prayed in front of the Hagia Sophia, say they are collecting millions of signatures for a petition to have the basilica reopened for use as a mosque.