Turkey’s Erdogan says Hagia Sophia becomes mosque after court ruling

By Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship on Friday after a top court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

Erdogan made his announcement, just an hour after the court ruling was revealed, despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.

“The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque…to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” the decision signed by Erdogan said.

Erdogan had earlier proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge 6th Century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court in Ankara, said in its ruling.

“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said, referring to an edict signed by Ataturk.


The association which brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia was the property of the Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.

Erdogan, a pious Muslim, threw his weight behind the campaign to convert the building before local elections last year. He is due to speak shortly before 9 p.m. (1800 GMT), his head of communications said.

The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added huge calligraphic panels bearing the Arabic names of the early Muslim caliphs alongside the monument’s ancient Christian iconography.

The Russian Orthodox Church said it regretted that the court did not take its concerns into account when making its ruling and said the decision could lead to even greater divisions, the TASS news agency reported.

Previously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Greece had also urged Turkey to maintain the building as a museum.

But Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque, saying this would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans, Jonathan Spicer and Timothy Heritage)

Museum or dumpster? U.S. cities wrestle with Confederate statues’ fate

Museum or dumpster? U.S. cities wrestle with Confederate statues' fate

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – As communities across the United States redouble efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces after a far-right rally in Virginia turned deadly, city leaders now face another conundrum: what to do with the statues.

President Donald Trump described them on Thursday as “beautiful statues and monuments,” part of the history and culture of the country that will be “greatly missed.”

But they are seen by many Americans as symbols of racism and glorifications of the Confederate defense of slavery in the Civil War, fueling the debate over race and politics in America.

Cities are speeding up their removal since Saturday’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a suspected white supremacist crashed a car into a crowd, killing one woman, during protests against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who headed the Confederate army in the American Civil War.

Since Monday, officials in Baltimore and Gainesville, Florida, have taken down statues while another was torn from its plinth by protesters in Durham, North Carolina. Calls for more to be removed have grown louder.

This has created an additional headache for cities and spurred another debate: how to dispose of the statues once they are taken down.

Some have suggested museums, others putting them in Confederate cemeteries and one city councilman proposed using their metal to make likenesses of civil rights leaders.

“Melting them down and using the materials to make monuments for Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman would be powerful!” Baltimore city councilman Brandon Scott wrote on Twitter this week. The mayor’s office said that was unlikely.


The debate contrasts sharply with how Eastern Europe handled thousands of statues following the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Often pulled down by angry mobs, some of the statues ended up in dumpsters and others in museums to teach people the evils of totalitarian regimes. In Budapest, a for-profit park hosts about 40 statues of communist heroes such as Karl Marx.

In the U.S. South, the debate still rages between those nostalgic for the past and those who view the monuments as painful reminders of slavery.

There are more than 700 Confederate statues in the United States according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, most of them created in the 1910s and 1920s, decades after the Civil War ended. They were intended to reassert the power of white people, said Jonathan Leib, Chair of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

“They’re visible, tangible expressions of power,” he said on Thursday.

In Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor William Bell ordered workers to hide a Confederate statue behind plywood boards, while the city challenges a state law banning the removal of such monuments.

“They represent acts of sedition against the United States of America and treason against the United State of America,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.

But sympathies persist, as both lawmakers and citizens resist plans to remove them.

“I absolutely disagree with this sanitization of history,” Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican, told WVHU radio on Tuesday.


For now, many of the removed statues gather dust in warehouses or, as in the case of New Orleans, sit disassembled in a city scrap yard, where two were found by local reporters.

In Baltimore, statues are now in storage, according to the mayor’s spokesman Anthony McCarthy, who said they will likely end up in a Confederate cemetery or a museum.

Many city legislators have expressed interest in relocating statues to museums, where they might be viewed as historical artifacts and not rallying points for racism.

Anna Lopez Brosche, city council president in Jacksonville, Florida, encouraged the removal of Confederate statues from public property on Monday and proposed placing them where they will be “historically contextualized.”

In Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray has proposed removing statues from one city park, formerly the site of a slave auction block and whipping post.

Meanwhile, a statue removed in Gainesville, Florida, on Monday is being returned to a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which erected it in 1904.

The group, founded in 1894 by women descended from Confederate soldiers, put up many of the statues as part of their goal to display what they call “a truthful history” of the Civil War and mark places “made historic by Confederate valor.”

Some historians argue that, as in Eastern Europe, the Confederate monuments should be preserved, but in the proper context.

“A slave whipping post isn’t something we want up, just out in public without interpretation,” said W. Fitzhugh Brundage, American History professor at the University of North Carolina.

“But on the other hand, if you have it in the Smithsonian where people can see it and it can be properly interpreted, it’s a valuable teaching tool.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Taylor Harris and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Matthew Lewis)

Sorrow, selfies compete at New York’s 9/11 memorial 15 years on

9/11 Memorial

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The memorial in New York City at the site where the Twin Towers fell in the Sept. 11 attacks 15 years ago straddles two worlds: one of the living and one of the dead.

A marker for where more than 2,600 people were killed, it attracts tourists from around the world. Some are drawn there to pause and reflect, others to satisfy a morbid fascination with the site of the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Clutching cell phones, cameras and selfie sticks, visitors generally take their time around the National September ll Memorial Museum. They are expected to turn out in droves on Sunday for the 9/11 anniversary.

More than 23 million people have seen the memorial and 4 million have been to the museum since they were opened five years ago, leaving some local people thinking the significance of the site as a place for mourning is fading.

Rosanne Hughes’ husband died on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was on a work visit at the Windows on the World restaurant high in the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Now a board member of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Foundation, she said it was hard for victims’ relatives to sometimes see insensitive or even rude behavior at the plaza in Lower Manhattan.

“It’s very disrespectful for people to go there and take selfies and smile for the cameras and in the background is where the towers collapsed,” Hughes said.

“I saw people with their kids running around, you know laughing, having fun. I guess people just don’t understand that it’s just not that type of museum.”

Early on that bright Tuesday morning in 2001, two hijacked planes were slammed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field.


The memorial and museum, which cost more than $700 million to build, feature twin pools with waterfalls, each covering nearly an acre. The pools stand in the footprints of the towers.

Flanking the pools are platforms dotted with Swamp white oak trees and ivy beds. The names of every person who died in the 9/11 attacks are inscribed on bronze panels that rim the pools.

Coins glistened from the inner ledges of the pools, sharing space with paper napkins, bottle caps and even a plastic coffee cup one recent Sunday.

A security guard, who declined to give his name, said that during patrols he had to ask children to not sit on the names of the dead and stopped adults from stubbing out cigarettes on them.

The mood inside the museum, beneath “Ground Zero,” is more solemn, its 110,000 square feet bearing witness to the attacks. People’s identification cards, blood-stained shoes, photographs of fathers, wives, brothers and co-workers, intimate stories of loss and recovery tell the story.

Outside once again, Hughes said it was upsetting to see hotdog vendors and souvenir stands near the memorial.

“We still have anger over what happened too, and we’ve moved forward from that. But this is something that just doesn’t go away,” she said.

“It may be a photo-op for them but for us it is still very painful to watch.”

Kenneth T. Jackson, a New York City historian and professor at Columbia University, said the attacks made the World Trade Center the most famous place in the world, and he believes visitors instantly realize its significance.

“It now joins the long list of New York City tourist attractions and, for better or worse, it is one,” he said. “Even if there was no memorial, even if they left some broken stuff there, people would visit.”

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Toni Reinhold)

Museum To Present “Overwhelming Evidence For Creation”

A new museum proposed for Boise, Idaho is being described as a place to present “overwhelming evidence’ for God’s creation of Earth and life.

The Northwest Science Museum is proposing a large national history museum that would have exhibits detailing the Earth’s history from a Biblical perspective.  The museum’s proposed building would appear similar to Noah’s ark with a dinosaur on the roof.

“We want to show a lot of science that’s being censored and not presented to the public,” Doug Bennett, the museum’s executive director, told the Idaho Statesman.

Bennett told the Christian News Network that the goal is to show how science actually backs up the creation story in Genesis.

“They need to know that there is true science that backs up creation,” Bennett asserted. “The church as a whole has shied away from this issue. Our goal is to help pastors and lay teachers understand the overwhelming evidence for creation from a scientific point of view, and that we don’t need to be afraid to talk about origins.”

“All Christian doctrine is based in Genesis and most within the first 11 chapters of Genesis. So it’s extremely important to understand origins,” Bennett added.  “Understanding origins leads one to have to make a decision about God as a creator, and if God created you, then he makes the rules and you are accountable to him; and if you are accountable, then you have to either accept Jesus as Lord and savior or reject him. That’s one of the goals of the Northwest Science Museum: to bring people to the point where they have to make a decision about God.”

The structure as proposed would cost $150 million and provides 350,000 square feet for the museum and offices.

Terror Attack On Museum In Tunisia Leaves 21 Dead

At least three gunmen stormed a museum in Tunisia Wednesday attacking tourists and leaving at least 21 people dead.

The scene at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis was described as “horrific” by witnesses.  In addition to the 21 confirmed dead, at least 21 others were wounded.

Officials say that 17 tourists are among the dead.

The government took the unusual step of taking tourists to a secured location for their safety while a manhunt took place for the shooters.

Tunisia’s internor ministry said the standoff with the gunmen ended when security forces stormed the museum.  The attack was from “two or more terrorists armed with Kalashinkovs.”  Local radio said the terrorists were in military-style clothing.

Witnesses say that many of the tourists were Italians who were part of a cruise that had docked in Tunis for the day.

The attackers were not immediately identified but Tunisia has been dealing with attacks by various Islamic terrorist groups, including several who have pledged support for ISIS.

Artifact in New York Confirms King David’s Life

An artifact on display in New York confirms the authenticity of King David and delivers a blow to those who want to claim that the Old Testament is false and he never existed.

“The most popular legends about David are the creation of generations who lived long after him,” wrote Jacob Wright of Emory University in an online article. “David’s slaying of Goliath, his exploits in the court of Saul, his relationship to Jonathan and Michal, his fate as a fugitive, his military triumphs abroad, his affair with Bathsheba, his civil war with Absalom, his succession by Solomon—all these colorfully depicted episodes were created by later generations of writers.”

However, the Tel Dan Stela, a 9th century B.C. stone slab with Aramaic text that is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art proves the people who want to deny the existence of King David are wrong.

“In the 19th century, the Mesha Stela (also known as the Moabite Stone) was discovered in Jordan, and references ‘the house of David,’” Henry Smith, Jr, Director of Development for the Associates for Biblical Research, stated. “This important discovery is often ignored or dismissed by liberal scholars and skeptics across the board. Further, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen has identified an inscription in the Temple of Amun at Karnak that he believes reads ‘the heights of David.’”

“The Tel Dan Stela not only mentions the ‘house of David’ as well, but is a hostile witness to David’s historicity,” Smith added. “That is, it was inscribed by enemies of Israel from Aram. Further, it shows that kings who were enemies of Israel from later periods after David’s death recognized that the kings of Israel were of David’s lineage.”

Shots Fired in Canadian Parliament Building; Soldier Killed

Police are on the hunt for several suspects after a series of shootings took place in three locations in Ottawa, including the Parliament building.

Witnesses reported a gunman shooting and killing a military guard posted at the National War Museum, then entering the adjacent Parliament building where multiple shots were heard around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Shots were also reported at the Rideau Centre shopping center, located only a few blocks away from the Parliament building.

The attacks were reported hours after Canada raised its terror threat level due to the death of another soldier on Monday. The soldier was killed by a radical jihadist.

At this time there is no confirmation that any of this week’s attacks are linked to ISIS or any terrorist organization.