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.
Baghdad Bombings Could Give Biden Administration Excuse to Increase US Presence in Iraq
The first major Baghdad bombings in three years happen on Joe Biden’s first full day as president.
Two suicide bombings rocked a marketplace in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding over 100. As of now no one has claimed responsibility, although Iraqi military leaders suspect the Islamic State, the paramilitary group often referred to as “ISIS” in years past.
Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji said that the first suicide bomber shouted in the marketplace that he was not feeling well, and when a group of people drew near him, he detonated an explosive belt he was wearing. Not long after that, a second suicide bomber then detonated his own belt several feet away.
This was Baghdad’s first major bombing in three years, and interestingly enough it came on the first full day of Joe Biden’s presidency. Even the Associated Press pointed out that “many questioned the timing of the attack.”
“The US-led coalition recently ceased combat activities and is gradually drawing down its troop presence in Iraq,” the article reads.
The Jerusalem Post also writes that the bombings provide Biden with “an early opportunity to show US support for Iraq.”
“Biden has said that the US is ‘back’ and the world can expect the US to care again about foreign policy and work multilaterally to solve problems,” said the Post.
All this leads many to believe that the Biden administration will once again increase the US presence in Iraq, thereby dragging us deeper into a situation that the Trump administration had been eager to get out of.
This is not the first time that a Middle Eastern tragedy has coincided with a change of power. In March of 2017, two months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Assad government in Syria allegedly used chemical weapons against its own people, leading to international outcry and the Trump administration’s unilateral decision to launch an April 7 missile strike on the Syrian government’s Shayrat Airbase.
Bombings and attacks have also been known to happen shortly after the US announces commitments to scale back military operations.
Perhaps groups like the Islamic State feel emboldened by such announcements and power changes. In any case, the military-industrial complex often uses such attacks to justify never-ending involvement in the Middle East. As of now, however, it still remains to be seen what they will do as a result of Thursday’s bombings, if anything. Fingers crossed that it’s not much.
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