Halki’s Opening in Exchange for a Prayer?


According to a report in the Turkish daily newspaper Radikal, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning to perform Islamic prayers at Istanbul’s historic Hagia Sophia, along with the leaders of other Islamic countries who will be visiting Turkey in late May.

The prime minister’s political party, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is reportedly considering organizing a special prayer in one of the most famous Christian monuments in the world, a move sought to be pandering to the country’s millions of Islamists, ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in Turkey next August.

Like all things in Turkish politics, the provocative move will come along with a wider “reform package” that will contain important steps on several thorny issues, including the opening of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary that has been closed since 1974.

The prayer at Hagia Sophia will be part of a series of events held for the week marking Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans late May, according to the newspaper. The government, however, remains concerned over the possible reactions that such an event could spark from throughout the world and is said to be packaging the so-called “reforms” as part of this announcement to alleviate opposition and outcry.

Previously, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç publically expressed his hope to see the Hagia Sophia, currently a museum, be converted into a mosque at some point in the future day. The suggestion was strongly condemned by Greece, which described it as an “insult to the religious sensibilities of millions of Christians.”

In a possible bid to balance potential controversy, the reform package prepared by the government is said to include steps regarding the historic Halki Seminary’s opening.

Ankara has reportedly completed is preparations for ensuring the reopening of the Greek Orthodox Seminary of Halki, located on Istanbul’s Heybeliada island, which has been an important training center for many Orthodox Christian hierarchs throughout the world and seen as integral for the local Greek Orthodox community’s survival.

The government had previously set two preconditions for opening the seminary, calling on Greece to cease appointing state muftis (Islamic religious leaders) and also to build a mosque in Athens. However, only Erdoğan’s instruction is now said to be needed for the reopening of Halki.

The fresh “reform package” comes as increasing numbers of AKP figures voice their opinion that Erdoğan would be the most suitable candidate for presidency, rather than Abdullah Gül, in the August elections.


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