On Friday, July 24, Turkish authorities reportedly closed monuments commemorating the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, preventing non-governmental organizations from holding events celebrating the 97th anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, which defined Turkey's modern borders. The decision comes on the day that the Hagia Sophia reopens as a mosque, having been secularized by Atatürk in 1934. Atatürk's burial place, Anıtkabir, was reportedly barricaded by Ankara police, on the grounds of needing disinfection. Organizations had also intended to lay wreaths at monuments in Turkey's 81 provinces, but these ceremonies were canceled by local authorities, who cited social distancing requirements.
The decision to close monuments to Atatürk, an important figure to Turkey's secular community, combined with the reopening of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, may provoke protests throughout Turkey.
President Erdogan announced on July 10 that Hagia Sophia had been officially re-designated as a mosque following a court ruling. The decision, which followed years of campaigning by conservative Muslim groups, met with widespread criticism from church leaders. However, Erdogan has insisted that the 1500-year-old Byzantine cathedral, which was turned into a mosque under the Ottoman empire before being designated a museum in 1934, should be open for Muslim worship.
Those in Istanbul are advised to avoid Hagia Sophia and the Cagaloglu area on Friday due to the anticipated travel disruptions and risk of protests. Those throughout Turkey should avoid protests, monitor developments, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities.
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