Turkey turns Hagia Sophia into a mosque

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Turkey turns Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Munir Bayouk/ exclusive report from the Catholic Center for Studies and Media

The world-famous Hagia Sophia, originally founded as a cathedral, has been turned back into a mosque. This position was announced on Friday, July 10, by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan basing his decision on a court ruling that annulled the site's museum status.

WHAT IS HAGIA SOPHIA?
Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. In 1934, it became a museum and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was originally built as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church. Byzantine Emperor Constantius commissioned construction of the first Hagia Sophia in 360 A.D. At the time of the first church’s construction, Istanbul was known as Constantinople, taking its name from Constantius’ father, Constantine I, the first ruler of the Byzantine Empire.

REACTIONS TO TURKISH MEASURE

A. CHURCH LEADERS
The Russian Orthodox Church expressed dismay at Turkey's decision to revoke the museum status of Hagia Sophia, accusing it of ignoring voices of millions of Christians.

"The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard," Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

"Today's court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored," Legoida said.

The Russian Orthodox Church previously urged caution over calls to alter the status of the historic former cathedral, and Russian Patriarch Kirill said he was "deeply concerned" about such a potential move and called it a "threat to the whole of Christian civilisation".

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.

B. UNESCO
UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia's status, saying it was "regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialog nor notification beforehand".

"UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session," the United Nation's cultural body said in a statement.

C. THE EUROPEAN UNION
The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision "regrettable".

"The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey's landmark decisions and President Erdogan's decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable," he said in a statement.

D. CYPRUS
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a Greek Cypriot, posted on his official Twitter account that Cyprus "strongly condemns Turkey's actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations".

E. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
"We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia," Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

"We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all."

F. GREECE
Greece’s culture ministry said on Friday, July 10, a Turkish court verdict which could convert the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque was an "open provocation" to the civilized world.

“Today’s decision, which came as a result of the political will of President (Tayyip) Erdogan, is an open provocation to the civilized world which recognizes the unique value and ecumenical nature of the monument,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said.

The minister clarified that Greece was not “trying to interfere in Turkey's domestic affairs,” however, Hagia Sophia is “a monument to all mankind, regardless of religion.”

Furthermore, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has condemned the move, as has Greece - home to many millions of Orthodox followers.

"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.

G.RUSSIA
Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian upper house of parliament, called the action "a mistake".

"Turning it into a mosque will not do anything for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, but on the contrary brings them into collision," he said.

The Church in Russia, home to the world's largest Orthodox Christian community, immediately expressed regret that the Turkish court had not taken its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia. It said the decision could lead to even greater divisions.

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 00:36
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