Archive for August 5th, 2020

August 5, 2020

Dangers of Convenient Universalism: Power Relations and Responsibility of Scholars on the Hagia Sophia

by Azad Alik

 

Ayasofya

By Axel B. Corlu, Ph.D.

The recent reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque by the Erdogan regime generated heated debates among scholars, politicians, and the public. A recent article by Patricia Blessing and Ali Yaycioglu, titled “Beyond Conquest Narratives: Hagia Sophia, Past and Present” offers sophisticated but ultimately convenient universalism, where both the past and the present are presented from a distorted lens, with strategic omissions.[1]

According to Blessing and Yaycioglu, there is a binary “conquest narrative” that both the supporters and opponents of the Hagia Sophia reconversion utilize, and that in essence this simplistic view does not reflect the “complex history of Ottoman Hagia Sophia.” The authors go on to label the concerns about the protection of the structure, especially regarding the issue of the mosaics as ahistorical “disinformation,” and offer a “correct” version of history.

I will follow their text in the same order, and point out the multiple issues.

First, the authors begin by stating that Ali Erbaş, the Director of Religious Affairs, ascended the minbar “decorated with green standards, holding a sword…” For a text that opposes the “conquest narrative,” it is remarkable that the meaning of the green standards (as clear and unambiguous a reference to conquest as possible) and the symbolic –albeit bumbling—attempt to hold the sword in the left hand (as a gesture of “peace”)[2], is left unmentioned. The authors inform us that the sword, as a symbol, was not associated with conquest, but the ruler in the Ottoman context. This is quite debatable; Ottoman sultans have been depicted in many different poses, adorned with rich symbolism that incorporates multiple elements. In the case of Mehmed II himself, a famous portrait from the Topkapi Palace Museum, attributed to Siblizade Ahmed, shows him smelling a rose in his right hand, which also features a zihgir, a thumb ring used in Oriental archery, on his thumb.

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