On Friday, a Turkish court revoked the museum status of the Hagia Sophia. The large domed structure was founded as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in AD 537, before becoming a mosque during the time of the Ottoman empire. It was converted into a museum in 1934.
But on Friday, a Turkey court revoked the Hagia Sophia's museum status. It is unclear as to what happens next. However, according to reports, Turkey's Council of State had been looking at a case that would allow the Hagia Sophia to be re-designated as a mosque. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly backs the move.
The Council of State threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled a 1934 cabinet decision that changed the 6th century building into a museum. The ruling allows the government to restore the Hagia Sophia's previous status as a mosque.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is incidentally a part of the "Historic Areas of Istanbul." Earlier in the day, UNESCO had reportedly opposed the move, with news agency AFP quoting a spokesperson of the body as saying that the state must ensure that "no modification affects the exceptional universal value of the property inscribed on its territory". Reportedly, UNESCO had sought the initiation of dialogue before any decision was taken.
As a museum, the Hagia Sophia has been open to people of all faiths, and is a hugely symbolic world heritage site. The idea of turning it into a mosque has garnered widespread international criticism, including from the United States and Orthodox Christian leaders. The decision could also affect ties with neighbouring Greece.
(With inputs from agencies)