ISTANBUL: A large rally held in Istanbul demanded government change the historic Hagia Sophia church--a UNESCO World Heritage Site-- into a mosque.
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) led the rally through the Sultanahmet district. Placards and signs were carried by protesters plastered with slogans including "Hagia Sophia needs to be reopened as a mosque" and "Let our lives be sacrificed for Islam."
Following recognition of the slaying of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide by Pope Francis in April, the idea of converting the church into a mosque began to gain momentum.
The Ottoman Empire did once convert the church into a mosque in 1453. The fall of the empire, however, led the new Turkish government to transform it into a secular mosque.
Read: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia sees first Quran reading in 85 years
"Frankly, I believe that the Pope’s remarks will only accelerate the process for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for [Muslim] worship," Professor Hizli, a senior government cleric, said in a written statement last month.
He denounced the Pope's comments as a "modern reflection of the crusader wars launched in these lands for centuries" and suggested that Turkey’s role as a 'standard bearer' for the Muslim world provoked criticism from non-Muslims.
In a much recent event, the church was used to celebrate Islam during the holy week of Easter.
"The historic Istanbul cathedral and museum, Hagia Sophia, witnessed its first Quran recitation under its roof after 85 years," reported a local Turkish news channel.
"The Religious Affairs Directorate launched the exhibition ‘Love of Prophet,’ as part of commemorations of the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad."
Read: Pope clasps hands in reflection in Istanbul mosque
Turkey, which is a Nato member since 1952, has experienced a fall in its Christian population from 20 per cent 100 years ago to only 0.2 per cent today.
Current officials have expressed the desire to return the country to an Islamic state established under the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Council of Ministers, for example, formed the Istanbul Conquest Society to help organise a yearly event to celebrate the conquest of Constantinople -- Turkey's original name.
This article originally appeared on Breitbart