With a presidential decree signed on 10 July, Erdogan’s regime decided to convert Hagia Sophia, a historical Byzantine church built in 534 AD, from a museum into a place of Muslim worship. The Byzantine monument was turned into a museum in 1934 with a decree from the founder of the modern bourgeois state, Kemal Ataturk, and marked the secular character of the Turkish state. The conversion is a symbolic act that seeks to emphasise the neo-Ottoman imperialist plans of the “Sultan” Erdogan and the reactionary Turkish bourgeoisie.
It is no coincidence that the grand opening will take place on 24 July, the date of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, which defined the borders of the current Turkish state and which the Erdogan’s regime wants to amend.
With this move, but also with its overall activity, the Turkish bourgeoisie sends the message that it wants to play an upgraded role in the wider region and that it will not tolerate their exclusion from the exploitation of the oil and gas in the Southeastern (SE) Mediterranean, or other moves they consider as threatening, such as support, directly or indirectly, for the Kurds in the Middle East.
The Erdogan regime has not confined itself to symbolic acts. Particularly in recent months, the Turkish state has engaged in intense military activity in Libya and the Middle East. In Libya, in fact, with the provision of modern weapons and thousands of jihadist fighters, it seems that, for the time being, they have changed the balance of forces in favor of Tripoli government (the Government of National Accord) and against General Haftar, who is backed by a number of countries including Russia, Egypt and France. Erdogan has even sharpened his confrontation with France, targeting a French warship that was trying to control a Turkish passenger ship bound for Libya that was possibly carrying weapons. In addition, on 17 June, the Turkish army intervened in northern Iraq, striking PKK positions in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
However, the imperialist ambitions of “Sultan” Erdogan do not hide his “clay feet”. The Turkish economy is not strong enough to support an open competition with the major powers in the region. This is all the more true today, as the Turkish economy is in the throes of the greatest global capitalist crisis in living memory. The IMF predicts that the Turkish GDP will shrink by 5 percent in 2020, unemployment will reach 17.2 percent, while inflation is expected to reach 12 percent and the Turkish pound is again on the verge of collapse.
The depth of the crisis and the increase of the suffering of the Turkish people will inevitably lead to the rise of the class struggle, but will also widen the rifts in the already divided Turkish bourgeoisie. An aggressive foreign policy, beyond whatever benefits the Erdogan regime hopes to gain, is mainly part of an effort to fuel nationalism and religious fanaticism in order to divert the masses’ attention from pressing problems at home. This includes the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. which was a constant demand of the most reactionary forces in Turkey in recent years.
This move will undoubtedly give Erdogan a temporary boost in his influence that will probably reflect in the opinion polls, but it cannot change the general rising discontent in the masses against his regime. Erdogan's party (AKP) has been steadily losing electoral support in recent years, as we have seen with the loss of political control of Istanbul and other major cities in the recent municipal and regional elections.
The international labor movement of course must oppose the transformation of a World Heritage Site into a place of religious worship and a tool for cultivating nationalism and religious fanaticism. The Turkish Communist Party rightly opposed this attempt, stating that: “The Communist Party of Turkey has defended and will continue to defend that Hagia Sophia must be a public museum, as one of the most important protected historical monuments and a shining example of the cultural heritage of mankind", and turned its attacks against the reactionary regime of Erdogan and the Turkish bourgeoisie. The left-wing HDP also stated: “Hagia Sophia is part of the cultural and historical heritage of mankind. Turning it into a mosque is wrong… With its decision, the Council of State has become part of the AKP propaganda machine. That decision must change now. “
The attitude of the Communists and the Greek ruling class
The communists in Greece have to advocate of course the need for this Byzantine monument to remain a museum and to reveal Erdogan's reactionary aspirations. Above all however, they need to reveal the reactionary role, first and foremost of their own bourgeoisie.
The Greek bourgeoisie received a wonderful gift from Erdogan, as in turn, they can use the issue of Hagia Sophia to incite domestic nationalism, as they did with the Macedonian question and the alleged “invasion” of persecuted refugees in Evros, thus diverting the attention of the masses from the effects of the crisis and its reactionary policies.
But unfortunately, KKE leadership continues to pursue a policy that overemphasises the “aggression” and “provocation” of the Turkish ruling class, degrading the reactionary role of the Greek bourgeoisie. KKE leadership continues to advocate the defense of the sovereign rights of capitalist Greece, which was characteristically reflected in the statement of the General Secretary of the KKE, D. Koutsoubas who stated that: “The unacceptable and provocative decision of the Erdogan government to turn Hagia Sophia, this World Heritage Site, into a mosque, proves that Turkey's provocation is escalating step by step”.
But, as we have mentioned in previous articles, the Greek ruling class is equally provocative and reactionary, as we have seen in the formation of the alliance with Israel, Egypt, and Cyprus in an effort to exclude, or at least drastically limit, Turkey from access to Mediterranean hydrocarbons.
In the next period, the two competing bourgeoisies will increasingly lean on nationalism and the rhetoric of war hysteria to cut across the class struggle domestically. The communist movement in both countries must oppose this sham by all means and defend a genuine proletarian internationalist policy. Such policy would have to include joint initiatives and forms of militant action of all the mass workers organisations of the Southeastern Mediterranean, to coordinate the struggle against imperialist clashes and nationalist hatred with the central aim of the victory of socialism in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and the entire Southeastern Mediterranean. This is the only way for lasting peace and prosperity in the region!