Erdogan promised to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque

On the evening of Sunday, 31st March, Recep Tayyp Erdogan went to sleep expecting his usual electoral success. But he woke up with an unpleasant surprise: despite a big achievement throughout the country where his party collected 51,63% of votes, the ruling party Justice and Development (AKP) and the nationalist MHP lost two of the main cities in Turkey: Ankara and Istanbul.

A major setback for the Sultan Erdogan, especially considering the loss of Istanbul, the city controlled by Erdogan’s party since 1994, that saw him becoming mayor and starting his rising political career.

The former Prime Minister and Erdogan’s loyal politician Binali Yildirim, failed to become Istanbul’s mayor despite the aggressive campaign ran by Erdogan himself.

In an earlier rally, Erdogan had promised to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, while originally a Byzantine Christian cathedral. This move didn’t affect Turkish citizens who decided to vote for the Kemalist left-wing party CHP. The 6th-century old basilica, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Greek Orthodox church and had already been turned into a mosque after Istanbul fell under the control of the Ottoman empire. After Mustafa Kemal Ataturk took power in 1923, St. Sophia became a museum and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Erdogan’s Islamist turning point came without a surprise. “Three children not enough, have five to be the future of Europe,” Erdogan said in December 2017 quoting Algerian leader Houari Boumediene who had said in 1974: “One day, millions of Muslims will go to Western countries to conquer them. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.”

Following the failed coup in 2016, Erdogan also said that he would approve the death penalty if parliament voted for it. A year later, he opened the so-called “jihadist highways”, the corridors for foreign fighters who wanted to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq via Turkey. In June 2017, Turkey seized 50 Christian churches and monasteries and declared them state property.

The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) warned that the Islamic State (IS) is using Turkey as a strategic base to reorganize, posing a threat to the security of Europe. Indeed, Turkish interests do not always correspond with European priorities on the field of counter-terrorism, especially since Ankara prefers to prioritize the fight against PKK rather than the one against ISIS and Al Qaeda, according to AIVD. Furthermore, Erdogan also directly threatened European citizens: “Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey,” during at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara in March 2017.

Despite this aggressive and Islamist-driven agenda, Erdogan continues to pursue his goal for Turkey to join the EU: “We will absolutely not allow some circles — whose intentions and goals we know inside and out — to block Turkey from being a respectable, equal and deserving full EU member.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gave a decisive halt to Erdogan’s ambitions, when he told Die Welt that “The talks on membership between the EU and Turkey should be ended taking into account the system systematic violations of human rights and essential democratic values in the country.”

Significantly, if Turkey was to join the EU, it would become the second largest country in the bloc and would have one of the biggest national delegation in the European Parliament and would also have the same number of votes in the European Council.

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