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The Tragic Politicization of Hagia Sophia

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Last Friday, the Turkish Council of State overturned the 1934 ruling that had allowed Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s soaring cathedral-turned-mosque, to be converted into a museum. Minutes later, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decreed that the Great Mosque of Ayasofya (its other name) will open for Muslim prayer in late July this year, righting what he framed as an 85-year-old legal injustice. Hagia Sophia happens to be Turkey’s most popular tourist attraction.Erdoğan has been hinting at doing this since 2018, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Secularism has been enshrined in Turkey’s Constitution since its founding in the 1920s, but the (clearly politically motivated) court decision is only the latest installment in the Justice and Development Party’s broader campaign to promote Islam in Turkish public life. Erdoğan says he wants to raise “a pious generation” by introducing religion into schools, having texts like Pinocchio rewritten, and firing tens of thousands of teachers. To do this, he exploits a loophole in the state’s secularity rule that allows him to superfund the Religious Affairs Directorate (the Diyanet), which administers and promotes Hanafi Sunni Islam in public life and will now control Hagia Sophia. No one faith, let alone one sect, can claim total ownership of this particular building, however. Appalled Christians have noted that Islam itself was only founded in the seventh century, several hundred years after the cathedral was first built. Muslims have retorted, echoing the Turkish State Council’s finding, that Sultan Mehmed II, who conquered the city in 1453, won it fair and square and endowed it in his waqf as a mosque forever. It was a church for the first millennium of its life, then a mosque for almost as long (though not quite). It’s been a museum for less than a century. Who has the strongest claim: the constructor, the conqueror, or the founders of the secular, modern Turkish state?Complicating things yet further, Erdoğan said, “The revival of Hagia Sophia is the harbinger of freedom of Al-Aqsa and the footsteps of Muslims emerging from the era of interregnum,” referring to the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam (known as the Temple Mount to Jews), and suggesting that the Hagia Sophia is just the first domino in a longer chain of triumphs for Islam in the region.Whether he meant to gesture toward an actual pan-Muslim insurrection or not, his speech still hit home. Erdoğan seeks to divide that which is literally fused together in the architecture of Hagia Sophia. Like many very old places of worship around the Mediterranean—the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain, for example, or the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, dedicated first to John the Baptist and then to the martyr Husayn ibn Ali—Hagia Sophia is a jewel of blended origin. The Emperor Constantius II began building the first church in A.D. 360, on a site historians think was once a pagan temple. That wooden basilica soon burned down, and then its replacement burned down, too (riots were not infrequent in Istanbul’s history). The third building project began in 532 under the rule of Justinian the Great, and Hagia Sophia was finished in 537.The new stone basilica was designed by Greek geometers, and its warm, glowing interior looks like an act of God. When it was done, Justinian said, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” The central dome is 55.6 meters tall. Marble arches in green and white and purple scatter outward from the center, studded with gold mosaic. Until it was outdone by Seville Cathedral in 1520, Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world. Over the years it has been controlled by different regimes, which each contributed to its interior decoration (including doing necessary repairs), creating a stunning historic and religious mosaic. Crusaders turned it into a Roman Catholic church in 1204, but it reverted to an Eastern Orthodox church in 1261, when the city returned to Byzantine rule. When the Ottoman Empire gained Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II the Conqueror held his first Friday prayers in the temple and converted it into a mosque. Thus it remained until 1931, when it closed, before the new Republic of Turkey reopened it as a secular museum in 1935. Today, 3.3 million people visit it each year.Hagia Sophia’s eclectic design makes it a part of the mixed, elegant character of the city where it resides. What we now call Istanbul (formerly Byzantium and Constantinople) has been Thracian-, Greek-, and Roman-ruled and home to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, the pious and the irreligious alike. Due to its crucial spot on trade routes, the place we now call Turkey has for centuries been at the center of cultural exchange between East and West, less a borderland than a supercharged, cross-pollinated cultural zone where all kinds of art forms and ideas have melded. As a result, Istanbul boasts a cosmopolitan culture characterized by influences from all over the world—the greatest example of which is Hagia Sophia itself.Greek Christians protest the court’s decision at Hagia Sofia.SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty ImagesSkeptics see Erdoğan’s decree as a last-ditch call to his nationalist base for support as his political star wanes among Turkey’s youth. Even before his disastrous Covid-19 response threatened to destroy the Turkish economy (queasy about offending his religious supporters, Erdoğan failed, for example, to impose quarantines on pilgrims returning from Mecca), he was facing growing opposition over his crackdown on civil society and the judiciary and his disastrous handling of Turkey’s foreign affairs. After Russia’s killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in February, he opened the border with Greece, deliberately provoking violence between migrants and Greek locals. (Turkey was fighting a Russian offensive in northern Syria at the time, causing yet more Syrian refugees to be displaced westward.) In the fall of 2019, he led a disastrous attack on the Kurds in northern Syria, which Donald Trump helped mismanage into a chaotic bloodbath. Erdoğan’s exploitation of Hagia Sophia—perhaps the biggest symbolic weapon in his arsenal—is therefore a grasp at switching the political narrative, and it has worked. The pope is “deeply saddened,” as is the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople. The United Nations and Unesco are furious, their ire only matched by government spokespeople from Athens and Russia. Academics have signed open letters. In a blunt response, Erdoğan’s deputy told Reuters that “the sole decision-making authority about the status of Hagia Sophia … belongs to Turkey. We do not need anyone’s advice or recommendation on our own affairs.”Perhaps the best analysis came from Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who observed that the museum is a “symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity, and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam,” and warned that its homogenization “will push millions of Christians around the world against Islam.” It would be a harmful anachronism, he said, to take a place “in which East and West embrace” and then forcibly “cause a break between these two worlds.” The museum’s closure is a loss to people everywhere, but much more importantly, it’s a symptom of the no-holds-barred approach Turkey’s premier is taking to his leadership. This is a call to religious nationalism, of the same rabble-rousing strain that elected Trump in the U.S. It is also evidence that Erdoğan is running low on ways to make positive headlines—and reaching for last resorts.
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Customs arrests, increased food prices, and ECHR admissions

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The week of 17-21 May saw detained officers, an increase in food prices, and ECHR’s admission of legal complaints related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Azerbaijan’s failure in fighting corruption.

Detained officers

At the beginning of this week, the Prosecutor General`s office conducted an operation at the state customs committee in Baku. A number of officials were reportedly detained.

The spokesman of the Prosecutor General’s Office told Meydan TV that officials were caught accepting bribes. While this cannot be further verified, many corruption-related arrests have been taking place in lower-level state agencies. While corruption is rampant in the country, whether or not these arrests are indeed due to bribery or are political in nature is unclear.

Food prices in Azerbaijan have increased.

Food prices in Azerbaijan have increased.

Source: https://ekonews.az/

Increase in food prices

In the first quarter of 2021, the Producer Price Index (PPI) in Azerbaijan increased the most among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. According to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan (SSC), inflation between January and April 2021 was 4% higher than between January and April 2020, and food prices rose by 4.7% percent.

Economist Gubad Ibadoglu links the increase to the price rise for gasoline and water at the beginning of the year. He also believes that a hike in prices of imported goods, transportation costs and custom duties also played a big role in the situation. According to Ibadoglu, this means that prices will continue to rise.

ECHR admits legal complaints on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

ECHR admits legal complaints on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Source: ECHR

ECHR’s admits legal complaints on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia is now moving to the legal level. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that complaints submitted by Azerbaijan and Armenia against each other are admissible.

Azerbaijan appealed to the ECHR in January, charging Armenia for its human rights violations during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Azerbaijan submitted its complaints in three different sections. On the other hand, the Armenian government also filed a complaint against Azerbaijan in February, claiming that Azerbaijan violated the right to life, the right to freedom, as well as a number of other conventional rights. After mutual complaints, the ECHR reviewed them and decided to pursue further proceedings.

The ECHR believes that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has led to serious violations of the The European Convention on Human Rights. The court called on Azerbaijan and Armenia to refrain from taking any action, including military operations that violate the rights of civilians. The court also called on the countries involved in the conflict, including Turkey, to fulfill their obligations under the Convention.

It is expected that the ECHR will not make any decisions on territorial issues in order to prevent the court from becoming an arena for ideological struggles between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In general, the ECHR’s actions should be seen as a reminder to both parties to honor their international human rights obligations, even in times of conflict.

GRECO

GRECO

Source: GRECO

GRECO’s Report

According to the report published by Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO this week on Wednesday, Azerbaijan failed to fulfill recommendations to fight corruption.

The report stated that, “only a modest progress can be noted in the implementation of the recommendations addressed to Azerbaijan within the Fourth Evaluation Round. Fourteen out of twenty-one recommendations have been implemented satisfactorily, four recommendations have been partly implemented and three recommendations remain not implemented”.

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Permanent solution in Karabakh could make Russian military presence unnecessary – Expert

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US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasia Affairs George Kent made a speech at an online seminar hosted by Turkish Heritage Organization in Washington.

In his speech, he talked about the current situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

He said Russia was trying to keep the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, and not to settle it.

He expects the Azerbaijani government to increase dissatisfaction with the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh.

George Kent also quoted the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia: “This is the situation that happened in Georgia in 1998. Azerbaijan will be in the situation that Georgia faced in 2008. Then it will come to the current situation emerging in our country.”

It means that Georgian scenario  could happen in Nagorno-Karabakh in the near future.

It should be noted that when Georgia, in the year of 2008,  was involved in the military confrontation  with Russian forces in its sovereign territories – South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it brought about severe and sturdy consequences. As a result, Russia occupied South Ossetia and Abhhazia. 

Kent added that Russia is trying to take advantage of the Karabakh conflict by manipulating it and preventing Azerbaijan and Armenia from moving forward.

Speaking to Eurasia Diary, Patrick Walsh, Irish historian and political expert, commented on general thoughts about the role of Russia in the future settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As well, in his comments he touched upon the US and Turkey cooperation in ensuring peace and stability in the South Caucasus.

Irish historian Patrick Walsh: Karabakh has never been part of an Armenian  state

According to him, the domination of the South Caucasus region is a one of the priorities in the geopolitical interests of Russia.

“Moscow is mainly concerned over the stability of this region and is no longer able to dominate it, like it did in Soviet and Tsarist times. Like all Great Powers it has geopolitical interests and will exert them in any way it can,” he said.  

Walsh pointed out that Azerbaijan now has the task of managing the Russian presence in order to utilise it as a positive force in holding Yerevan to the settlement.

 “President Aliyev has demonstrated great understanding and skill in doing this so far. He has not underestimated Russia in the same way as the Armenians did. Handling Russia is a big challenge but there is nobody better qualified to do it,” he stressed.

According to some experts and politicians, the possibility of Georgian scenario could occur in Nagorno-Karabakh in the near future.

However, Walsh rejected all these claims and said it is impossible for Georgian scenario to happen in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

“Georgia is a different case. The Rose Revolution ruptured Russia-Georgian relations. The focus of Saakashvili was Georgia’s admission to NATO and it received US military assistance. Moscow saw this as a US foothold in the South Caucasus and used the conflict in South Ossetia to warn the Georgians off. Azerbaijan’s relationship with Russia is entirely different. It is based upon being a strong independent nation having good relations with a neighbour. Two qualities that Moscow respects,” he stressed.

In addition, touching upon the cases of Russian threat in Nagorno-Karabakh, Irish expert noted that the only positive development in the region could persuade Russia to leave.

“Russia cannot be defeated militarily so the task is to ensure that it is persuaded to leave Karabakh when its positive work is done. This can only be achieved politically by the development of a permanent solution in the region that makes a future Russian military presence unnecessary,” expert said.

When it comes to the role of the US and Turkey in the South Caucasus, Irish expert stressed that the US-Turkey cooperation could contribute to peace and stability in the region.

It should be noted that a number of US generals appreciated Turkey’s role in the Second Karabakh War and the ceasefire process. In their opinion, the United States and Turkey could cooperate in the process of stabilization in the region of the South Caucasus. 

“ The US and Turkey could play a positive role and could contribute to peace in the region. However, US/Turkish relations are not good at present and the Armenian Diaspora is a poisonous element that disables the US in exerting influence in the Turkic world. The US has much to gain in re-establishing good relations with Turkey and a more positive US economic contribution to peace and prosperity in the region is long overdue,” he added. 

by Yunis Abdullayev 

Read original article here

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Turkey may suspend ties with UAE over Israel deal, Erdogan says

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Turkey is considering suspending diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and withdrawing its ambassador over the Gulf state’s accord to normalize ties with Israel, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.The Turkish foreign ministry said history would never forgive the UAE’s “hypocritical behavior” in agreeing such a deal, which recasts the order of Middle East politics.Under the U.S.-brokered deal – the first between Israel and a Gulf Arab state – the Jewish state agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank which Palestinian leaders have denounced as a “stab in the back” to their cause.”The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.”Now, Palestine is either closing or withdrawing its embassy. The same thing is valid for us now,” he said, stating that he’d given orders to his foreign minister.”I told him we may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” he added. Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics The Turkish Foreign Ministry had earlier said Palestinians were right to reject the deal in which the UAE betrayed their cause.”History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behavior,” it said. “It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the (2002) Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.”Turkey has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, but relations have been strained for years.In 2010 Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.The deal makes the UAE the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
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