Felicity Party (SP) Chairman Temel Karamollaoğlu made some comments on a television program he joined about the Hagia Sophia Mosque. As Karamollaoğlu is the leader of a party that was founded in the past by the late Necmettin Erbakan, his words about Hagia Sophia naturally draw attention. He said, “Neither [main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader] Mr. [Kemal] Kılıçdaroğlu nor someone else can possibly change Hagia Sophia from being a mosque again. However, Hagia Sophia is a large establishment, a big building. Besides the sections used as a mosque, the other parts can be opened for tourists to come and visit.” The program was hosted by Karar newspaper journalist Taha Akyol. To justify Karamollaoğlu’s statement, he additionally said Hagia Sophia is “a very vast site.” This part of the conversation gave rise to certain questions and led to discussions. As a member of an alliance in the current election period, Karamollaoğlu speaks from a very important position, and Akyol stands out with his support of this alliance. Hence, these statements regarding Hagia Sophia, a matter of high symbolic value, must be considered a political attitude. Therefore, the statements need to be analyzed, with the interlocutors determined, and the context revealed.
We know who is speaking in the section we quoted, yet the addressees of this conversation are specifically left unknown. For example, is it addressing the groups that are pleased about Hagia Sophia Mosque being opened? If so, then what is the message being given? The claim that neither Kılıçdaroğlu nor somebody else can remove Hagia Sophia’s status as a mosque makes it quite clear that it is addressing those who are pleased about the mosque being open. Kılıçdaroğlu’s mention here confirms our analysis. Meanwhile, the statement that Hagia Sophia is a large establishment, a vast building, clearly points to a more general group of interlocutors. It can be said that the addressees at this point are those who object to Hagia Sophia being opened as a mosque. However, both the local nationals and foreigners have been addressed at the same time. There is also a mention of opening Hagia Sophia Mosque to tourists. It is stated that the building and site is big and vast enough for them to come and use as well. This is where the vagueness intensifies. The question of who these tourists are is left unanswered. It is likely referring to those coming to visit from “abroad.” But the vagueness does not end here, because in its current state, Hagia Sophia is presented as a site closed to tourists. Though this is far from the truth, the term “tourist” was specifically preferred. The addressees of this statement are “abroad.”
We must focus on how Hagia Sophia is identified as “a large building and a very vast site.” It is only natural to consider this statement as an effort to pave the way for regulation with respect to sharing the building and site. This then makes it obligatory to determine the context of the conversation. The person speaking is in negotiation with his interlocutors and is striving to give a message to certain centers. Since we are not talking about a personal building or site, it would not be wrong to say he is in a political negotiation or commitment. Those who want to further analyze the matter should read Wael B. Hallaq’s book titled, “Orientalism: A Critique of Modern Knowledge.” We are focusing on a matter that is directly correlated with the colony issue. The colony concept cannot possibly be understood by disregarding the building and site.
We must recall Erbakan’s talks to determine the context of Karamollaoğlu and Akyol’s conversation, which signifies the promise of a new regulation concerning Hagia Sophia. We must similarly remember the political struggles that left a mark on the second half of the last century regarding the opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque. This is the only way to reveal the context of Karamollaoğlu and Akyol’s statements. Erbakan used to say, “Hagia Sophia is kept closed solely out of fear of the West.” This was not a personal opinion. Hagia Sophia had political significance and was seen as the symbol of independence. Opening Hagia Sophia for worship as a mosque was central to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political life as well. He too had participated in numerous Conquest demonstrations and made speeches in the past, with the dream that Hagia Sophia would be opened to worship.
Hagia Sophia Mosque opened to worship, but we understand that Karamollaoğlu and Akyol, this is not a final stage. Hagia Sophia is likely on the agenda of certain groups, and the process is not over for them.