But the venerable building has become a pawn in the mean game of Turkish politics. Polls show Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is losing support because of ongoing economic problems, which are made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a perception of growing corruption. The AKP lost control of major cities like Istanbul and the capital Ankara in local elections last year. Turkey’s opposition parties speculate the president may call early elections before things get even worse for him.
Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Saint Lawrence University in New York, said it was not sure whether Erdogan would really go ahead with changing Hagia Sophia’s status.
“It remains to be seen whether he will take the plunge,” Eissenstat told The Daily Beast by email. “Promising to convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque is a perennial event in Turkey. It is easy enough to move forward, make some headlines, and then back down.”
But Eissenstat added that two developments mean chances are higher now than at other times when the issue has come up.
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