Erdoğan’s Move Toward an Islamic Caliphate
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently declared that his decision to convert the Church of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s massive sixth-century Byzantine cathedral, into a mosque foreshadows a future pan-Islamic reconquest of Jerusalem.
The Hagia Sophia was dedicated to Jesus Christ as the Word, or Logos, of God and was consecrated in 537 in Constantinople by Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great. It was the most important church in the Eastern Christian world (Byzantine Empire) for nearly 1,000 years until Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 and turned it into a mosque.
After the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1922, the founder of the secular Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, transformed the Hagia Sophia into a museum in an effort to westernize Turkey.
On July 24, exactly 97 years to the day after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey gave up all claims to the former Ottoman Empire, Erdoğan turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, fulfilling long-standing Islamist demands.
In a tweet to the non-Muslim world, Erdoğan said, “Hagia Sophia’s doors will be, as is the case with all our mosques, wide open to all, whether they be foreign or local, Muslim or non-Muslim.” To the Muslim world, however, he tweeted, “The revival of Hagia Sophia is a harbinger of the return of freedom to al-Aqsa Mosque.” The al-Aqsa Mosque, of course, stands atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Israeli analyst Zvi Mazel warned that Erdoğan’s true ambition extends far beyond Turkey. It includes reconstituting the Ottoman Empire and recapturing Jerusalem for Islam: “Today the Turkish leader is uniquely poised to . . . advance his grand design of reviving an Islamic caliphate under his rule. It is no secret that he sees himself as the rightful heir of centuries of Ottoman rulers, and as such, intends to extend anew Turkey’s influence over countries and territories formerly part of the Ottoman Empire.
“Erdoğan is downgrading links with Israel to curry favor with the Arab world, hosting meetings and conferences of Islamic organizations bent on condemning the Jewish state and mobilizing Turkish aid organizations—ostensibly to provide food for the needy in eastern Jerusalem and restore Islamic sites. But, in fact, he is agitating and inciting against Israel.
“This serves a dual purpose,” Mazel said. Erdoğan is “positioning Turkey as a defender of Islam and challenging Jordan, which by virtue of its peace agreements with Israel, has a special status regarding Islamic institutions and the Temple Mount.”
Israeli analyst David Koren added, “Turkey is the most active and important foreign country operating in eastern Jerusalem,” adding that Erdoğan “regards influence in eastern Jerusalem, particularly the Temple Mount, as a major strategic goal.”
Jordanian Professor Ahmad Nofal, speaking on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yarmouk TV, accused Ataturk of being a “crypto-Jew” and justified Erdoğan’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque: “If we liberate Palestine tomorrow, will we leave the Jewish synagogues intact? No! We will uproot them, along with their people, and throw them into the sea. Allah willing, it will be soon.”
Israeli author Nadav Shragai wrote, “The president of Turkey, who sees himself as the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood and a knife of the Ottoman Caliphate that will one day return to Jerusalem, has decided to take action to implement his vision of restoring Islam’s glory throughout ‘Palestine’ as a whole and Jerusalem in particular.”