By Pinar Tremblay – AL Monitor – 2016-06-17 – The Haghia Sophia Museum, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul, was built as a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica in 527. It was converted to an imperial mosque when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453. Following renovations in 1931-35, it was reopened as a museum under the rule of the newly established secular Republic of Turkey. Ever since 1931, the yearnings of the Turkish conservatives to reopen the site as a mosque has never ceased.

In the last decade, with tacit government approval, Islamist groups as well as ultranationalists have periodically carried Haghia Sophia to the headlines. They have organized rallies calling upon the government during Friday sermons and initiating petitions to focus the public attention on the matter.

Finally on April 11, 2015, a day before Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, which coincided with the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, for the first time in 85 years there was a Quran recitation inside Haghia Sophia. In November 2015, a young visitor from Sanliurfa province, Fatih Dortbudak, performed salat (prayer) inside the museum. As onlookers shared the photo, the hashtag #AyasofyayaOzgurluk (Freedom to Haghia Sophia) became a trending topic on social media. In December, Yusuf Halacoglu, the Nationalist Action Party’s deputy parliamentary group chair, submitted another bill to the Turkish parliament requesting the reopening of Haghia Sophia as a mosque. He had submitted a bill in November 2013 as well. Every year on May 29, more extravagant celebrations of Istanbul’s conquest and TV documentaries emphasizing the concept of “perfidious Byzantine” provoke feelings of entitlement to the Haghia Sophia mosque