Flags lowered halfway at Orthodox churches as international community rebukes Hagia Sophia outcome - live blog

Members of the international community denounced Turkey on Friday for opening the disputed Hagia Sophia, which was re-converted into a mosque from a museum earlier this month, to Muslim worship.

The criticism came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined hundreds of worshippers for Friday prayers inside the Hagia Sophia, with thousands more participating on the surrounding grounds. Erdoğan recited from the Quran in the Hagia Sophia just before the prayers took place.

The first Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia after 86 years were met with anger and sadness in Greece and Cyprus. Greece declared a day of mourning on behalf of Christianity, Die Welt reported. Bells rang in churches at noon after hearing the call from prominent Orthodox Christian clergy in both countries.

The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque was "unacceptable and murderous", DW quoted Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II as saying.

In the United States, flags were lowered in half at the urging of Archbishop Elpidophoros, the Greek Orthodox Church's religious leader in the country, according to DW.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Turkey as a "troublemaker", and the Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque an "affront to civilization of the 21st century".

“What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness,” Reuters quoted Mitsotakis as saying, who referred to Istanbul by the old name of the city used by Greeks.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed his dissatisfaction with the development saying the move made "no contribution to international understanding", according to DW.

Maas also said the decision to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque would damage Turkey's relations with the European Union.

"Erdogan's drive to protect his pan-Islamist presence is becoming increasingly dangerous for peace in Turkey and the world," said Cem Özdemir, a member of Germany’s opposition party the Greens, on his Twitter account.

“Erdoğan associated the conversion of Hagia Sophia with the liberation of (Jerusalem’s) Al-Aqsa mosque. He sees the future of Turkey in the Middle Ages."

The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.

On July 10, Erdoğan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after the Council of State - Turkey’s highest administrative court - ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum was illegal.

The move was met with dismay in Greece, the United States, and from Christian Church leaders.

Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), announced the appointment of the three imams on Thursday who will lead prayers at the reconverted mosque: Mehmet Boynukalın, professor of Islamic law at Istanbul’s Marmara University, and Ferruh Muştuer and Bünyamin Topçuoğlu, imams of two other Istanbul mosques.

Erbaş said that about 1,000 people would be able to attend prayers at the site at any one time.

On Thursday, Erdoğan and a large entourage paid a visit to inspect the final preparations at the site, including the unveiling of a sign at the entrance that reads “The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque”.

A turquoise carpet was laid on the floor to prepare for prayers and Christian imagery has been covered up with white sheets or obscured by lighting.

Authorities have designated areas outside of the Hagia Sophia segregated for men and women to join Friday's inaugural prayers.

Several roads leading to the site are being blocked and the authorities have said as many as 17,000 security personnel would be on duty.

(All times Turkish time, GMT+3)


21:55 - Erdoğan’s ‘pious generation’ project not working with Gen Z - Turkish pollster

Generation Zers are not interested in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent decision to open Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia landmark to Muslim worship, which is a symptom of a larger phenomenon of disinterest in Turkey’s political agenda among young Turks, said Bekir Ağırdır, head of the KONDA Research Company.

“The project of raising a religious generation is not working,” Ağırdır said, in a possible reference to Erdoğan’s bid to shift Turkey away from a secular foundation to a more Islamist-oriented institution. “This is beyond whether the government is in the wrong or right.”


19:55 - Turkish gov’t bans events at Atatürk monuments as Hagia Sophia opens for prayers

Turkish authorities closed off the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other monuments honouring him on Friday, barring non-government organisations from celebrating the 97th anniversary of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty that defined the borders of modern Turkey.

"It has become a crime to speak of Atatürk, the Republic and Lausanne to defend the foundations of the Republic of Turkey. We are barred from entering Anıtkabir,” Haber 3 quoted Hüseyin Emre Altınışık, chairman of the Kemalist Thought Association (ADD), as saying.

“We cannot accept this. Until we are allowed inside, we will wait here and continue our struggle. Today, Hagia Sophia is free, Anıtkabir is banned."


15:45 - Diyanet head takes a swipe at Atatürk

During his sermon at the Hagia Sophia, Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), made what many will see as an implicit attack on Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Independent Turkish tweeted.

"[Ottoman] Conquerer Sultan Mehmed trusted this marvellous temple as a mosque until doom's day. According to our beliefs, its foundation cannot be touched. Whoever touches it will burn. Anyone going against the inheritance will be cursed," he said.


15:25 - Hagia Sophia was a message of secularism, says Orhan Pamuk

Turkey’s Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk said that the Hagia Sophia was a message of secularism when it was a museum.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Pamuk said the decision to re-convert the site into a mosque was a populist message from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that showed his party no longer respected the secularism of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. 

“[They] want to say to the rest of the world that we are not very happy with the West. This is not a message that I like,” he said. 


14:35 - Diyanet head holds sword on Hagia Sophia minbar

Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), held a sword on the minbar (pulpit) before delivering the first sermon at the Hagia Sophia following its re-conversion to a mosque.

The sword, and two green banners that were hung on the minbar, are symbolic of Ottoman conquest, Yeni Şafak reported on Twitter.


13:45 - First call to prayer from the Hagia Sophia following its re-conversion to a mosque

State-run TRT shared a clip on Twitter from the first call to prayer at the Hagia Sophia following its re-conversion into a mosque from a museum.


13:25 - Erdoğan recites from the Quran in the Hagia Sophia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recited from the Quran just before the first Friday prayers in the Hagia Sophia.


12:30 - Worshippers gather in the Hagia Sophia for Friday prayers

The BBC has shared footage in a tweet of worshippers congregating in the Hagia Sophia for Friday prayers.


12:15 - Babacan says would have attended Hagia Sophia ceremony

DEVA Party chairman Ali Babacan said that he had not received an invitation to attend the grand opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque but would have gone if he he had been invited.

“The thing is already done. The rest is just comment. The Hagia Sophia issue is one of them,” Babacan said on a programme aired on Habertürk cited by Diken news website.

“Our colleagues have different opinions,” Babacan added.

Babacan, a former deputy prime minister, quit the ruling Justice and Development Party last year to found the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) in March.


10:50 - Live stream shows people congregating near Hagia Sophia

A live online feed by Anadolu news agency has shown people gathering in the park close to the Hagia Sophia.


10:30 - Commemorative coins made for the Hagia Sophia re-conversion

Special coins commemorating the re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque from a museum have been minted, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

A total of 5,000 silver and 10,000 bronze commemorative coins have been produced that can be purchased for 185 liras and 55 liras each respectively.

The Hagia Sophia will also be depicted on the back of 1 lira coins, with production launched tomorrow.

Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said on Twitter that: “We have made another note in history with our #HagiaSophiaMosque special money printed by our mint.”


10:00 - People perform morning prayers at Hagia Sophia security checkpoints

Some people attempting to pray at the Hagia Sophia this morning were stopped at checkpoints, Diken reported.

People who came with prayer rugs were stopped at the security points in the area. Some went to other mosques, while others prayed at the security points.