Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A Turkish court has ruled that Istanbul's Hagia Sophia must be converted back into a mosque.

The big picture: The giant domed structure was constructed beginning in 532, and it served as the home of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for nine centuries before becoming a mosque following the Ottoman conquest in 1453. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led a campaign to reverse its conversion into a museum in 1934 despite international opposition, including from the U.S.

Between the lines: This is an attempt by Erdoğan to "reverse the ongoing erosion of his popular base," writes Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute.

  • "[T]he decision is unlikely to give him more than a temporary boost in popularity; what it will surely do is undermine Turkey’s international brand as an open, Muslim-majority society at peace with its Christian heritage," Cagaptay contends.
  • Erdoğan's career is defined in many ways by bringing Islam back into public life and he sees the construction — or in this case conversion — of massive mosques as a way to define his legacy, Cagaptay adds.
  • Flashback: The decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum was taken under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who re-founded Turkey as a secular state.

The other side: The step was taken despite lobbying from Greece and Russia, both centers of the Orthodox Church, and from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said it would erase a vital "bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures.”

The latest: Shortly after the ruling, Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia open for worship. He reportedly plans to worship there himself next week.

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