Syria Planning to Build Replica of Hagia Sophia Church In Protest of Turkey’s Mosque Conversion

The government of Syria has begun plans to construct a smaller-scale replica of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul(formerly Constantinople) in the country’s Hama province, in response to the decision of the government of Turkey to convert the historic 6th century cathedral into a mosque for a second time.

Hagia Sophia, which was first constructed as a Christian cathedral in the medieval Byzantine Empire, was turned into a mosque upon the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. It was later converted into a museum shortly after the foundation of the modern-day Republic of Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s intiative to turn the historic building into a mosque once more earlier this month has inflamed tensions with the Christian world, especially with Eastern Orthodox Christians who see the former church as a holy place.

In response to the act of cultural triumphalism, the Syrian government has approved plans for the construction of a new, smaller-scale reproduction of the Hagia Sophia Church in the nation’s city of Al-Suqaylabiyah, which is primarily inhabited by Greek Orthodox Syrians who largely support the government of Bashar al-Assad. It’s unclear at this stage if the building is planned for use as an Orthodox church or as a museum, but the project does have the blessing of local Orthodox bishop Nicolos Baalbaki. The government of Russia, which patronizes Orthodox Christian heritage in the Middle East, is expected to contribute in the construction project.

The project will be a nod to religious tolerance and Syria’s own Byzantine Christian heritage.

It’s of some significance that Turkey- a NATO member state that the United States and the Christian West is obligated to protect- is actively working to Islamicize buildings essential to Christian history, whereas Syria- a majority-Muslim nation largely blacklisted by the West since the beginning of its seemingly endless civil war- is actively working to commemorate its Christian heritage.

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