Muslim prayers echoed on Friday from the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the first time in 86 years after its reconversion into a mosque earlier this month.

Iran PressAsia: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 10 controversially declared the nearly 1,500-year-old monument open to Muslim worship after a top court ruled the building's conversion to a museum by modern Turkey's founding statesman was illegal, Al Jazeera reported.

Erdogan, who was scheduled to join hundreds of worshippers on Friday, said last year it had been a "very big mistake" to convert the Hagia Sophia into a museum.

Critics however accuse Erdogan, who has been in power for 17 years, of playing to his nationalistic base, with support eroding amid a global economic downtown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  

The United States, the European Union, Russia, UNESCO, and various church leaders expressed concern at the change in status while neighboring Greece branded the move an "open provocation to the civilized world".

The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built as a cathedral during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 537 but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.


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