Erdogan's Hagia Sophia distraction masks his mounting problems
In a desperate attempt to remain in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dealt the Turkish republic's democratic structure a symbolic, historical insult so divisive it has the potential for serious, systemic political damage.
In so doing, the man derisively nicknamed Sultan Recep once again exposed his intense jealousy for Kemal Ataturk, the soldier-statesman and political genius who founded the modern Turkish state.
Understand Erdogan's government faces multiple and mounting problems. Here's a sampling: the COVID-19/Wuhan virus pandemic, wars in Syria and Libya, a domestic debt crisis and fraying domestic political alliances. Recent polls show Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in severe trouble with the electorate. For the record, Erdogan is also threatening to censor social media outlets that have mocked his family.
Given his country's myriad genuine problems, does Sultan Recep try to address them? No. He creates a political and media distraction loaded with international religious and historical symbolism.
On July 10, 2020 AD, Erdogan decided to wage a religion-baiting political war on modern Turkey's political structure and Ataturk's historical legacy by issuing a decree making Istanbul's Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque.
Reconverting is more accurate. Completed in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom) was Byzantine Greece's greatest Christian cathedral until 1453 AD, when Sultan Mehmet II seized Constantinople. Mehmet the Conqueror immediately made it a mosque.
On July 24, 2020 AD, Erdogan worshiped at Hagia Sophia. According to Turkish media, his action "sealed the deal."
Beyond Hagia Sophia serving as a mosque, what's the deal? The deal for Erdogan is political survival by securing support from AKP Islamists. Their support does not secure his political fortune.
Here's the highly problematic deep deal: the survival of Turkish democracy.
In 1924, Hagia Sophia abolished the Islamic caliphate and separated political and religious authority in Turkey: rule by parliamentary law and a national identity shared by free citizens as united Turks, not religion or ethnicity.