Turkish court paves way for Hagia Sophia museum to be reconverted to mosque

The Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, on Friday overturned a 1934 decree that made Istanbul's landmark Hagia Sophia a museum, state news agency Anadolu reported, clearing the way for it to be reconverted into a mosque. It was not clear if the ruling will go into effect immediately, dpa noted.

The verdict comes despite international concerns and following long-time calls by Turkish Islamic hard-liners to turn the 6th-century UNESCO heritage site back into a mosque.

The court was reviewing a 2016 petition by a little-known association. The association argued the Hagia Sophia was the property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who in 1453 captured Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque. It also argued a signature by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, on the 1934 cabinet decision was forged and thus invalid.

The US, Russia and Greece, along with UNESCO, had expressed concerns ahead of the ruling. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month rejected international criticism as an attack on Turkey's sovereignty.

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