UPDATES WITH FURTHER REMARKS BY TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN
By Ali Murat Alhas and Seda Sevencan
ANKARA (AA) – After completing all preparations, Turkey will open Hagia Sophia for worship on July 24 at Friday prayer, the Turkish president said on Friday.
In an address to the nation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered his remarks on the new status of Hagia Sophia -- which was used as a museum for the past decades but will serve as a mosque following a recently adopted decree on Friday.
The president said Hagia Sophia's doors will be open for Turks, foreigners, Muslims, and non-Muslims as is the case with all other mosques.
The Turkish president said Hagia Sophia would continue to embrace everyone with its new status as a mosque in a much more sincere way.
"I invite everyone to respect decisions taken by judicial and executive bodies of my country on Hagia Sophia," Erdogan said, stressing that how the historical complex would be of use was a matter of national sovereignty.
Turkey welcomes all views on the issue, said Erdogan referring to the new status of Hagia Sophia, but also added that any attitude or expression beyond that would be considered a "violation" of Turkey's "independence".
“I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia as a mosque by preserving the common cultural heritage of humanity,” Erdogan stressed.
Erdogan noted that the visitors of Hagia Sophia, now that the complex is set to serve as a mosque, would be able to visit the historical gem without paying any fees.
He added that Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in peace in Istanbul since its conquest, and Turks treated other non-Muslim houses of prayers with utmost respect whereas many of the Ottoman artifacts in Eastern Europe and the Balkans gradually disappeared.
The president went on to say that Turkey’s rights on Hagia Sophia was not any fewer than that of those who built the historical complex nearly 1,500 years ago, adding, insisting that Hagia Sophia would remain as a museum would be an equal demand that the Vatican was turned into a museum and closed to worship.
Erdogan said the "resurrection of Hagia Sophia" was the harbinger of the liberation of Masjid al-Aqsa, and footsteps of Muslims' will to leave hard days behind.
Earlier on Friday, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree, which turned Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum, and this move paved the way for its use again as a mosque after 85 years.
The court ruled that the architectural gem was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul, and presented to the community as a mosque -- a status that can not be legally changed.
Hagia Sophia was used as a church for centuries under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, and turned into a mosque following its conquest of Istanbul in 1453. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum.