Turkish protesters have prayed outside the museum and endlessly chanted “break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open,”. The protest is a shot at showing their stance against a 1934 legislation that prohibits religion services at the former church and mosque.
The controversy and protests come after a photograph was taken by Leyla Alaton, a Turkish businesswoman. She took the picture during a visit with a group of tourists where they spotted a ballerina doing ballet performances.
Alaton then shared the photograph on her social media account, resulting in a backlash as many critics viewed the performance as a sign of disrespect to a holy place that was used for worship.
Alaton, a member of the board of the Alarko group of companies since 2008, is the daughter of famous Turkish businessman Ishak Alaton. Ishak Alaton, who died in 2016, was a famous Turkish businessman of Jewish descent, and one of the founders of Alarko.
Hagia Sophia museum’s directorate released a statement from the official social media account of the place, announcing an investigation into the incident.
Turkey’s secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world’s greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.
President Tayyip Erdogan recited an Islamic prayer at the museum in March 2018 for the opening of a biennial on Turkish art. Erdogan dedicated the prayer to the “souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul’s conqueror,” implying Mehmet II who took over the city in 1453 by ending the millennium-old Roman Empire.