Turkey urged to keep Hagia Sophia as museum

As Turkey is inching closer to strip Hagia Sophia of its museum status and turn it back into mosque, ever more voices across the globe are opposing such a move, news wires reported. On July 2, the Council of State of Turkey is expected to rule on the request to annul the presidential decree that turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935.

But on Thursday, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni sent a letter to representatives of UNESCO’s Member States informing them of Ankara’s plans. “Hagia Sophia must not be allowed to be divested of its universal character and turned into a Muslim place of worship,” Mendoni said. “What the Turkish government and President Erdogan are attempting to do revives and reignites fanatical nationalist and religious sentiment. It is an attempt to reduce the monument’s value and international radiance,” she warned.

The same day the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback urged Turkey to abandon such plans. “The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world. We call on the Govt of Turkey to maintain it as a UNESCO World Heritage site and to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum,” he tweeted.

Already in early June, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Assistant Director-General for Culture said that UNESCO sent a letter to the Turkish authorities regarding Erdogan’s announcement to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Still UNESCO has not received a reply. According to Ramirez, the Convention on World Cultural Heritage stipulates that before any decision can be taken to change the status of a Cultural Heritage Monument, such as Hagia Sophia, a decision of the relevant UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee is required.

Few days ago, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed grief over plans by Turkey to convert the 6th-century former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. “What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Hagia Sophia was built in 537 but turned into a mosque following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in May 1453. It was then turned into a museum in 1935 shortly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Turkish Republic.

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