U.S. State Dept. "disappointed" by Hagia Sophia conversion into mosque

A general view inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey 1 July 2020

The Islamic call to prayer will ring out from the sixth-century Hagia Sophia again on July 24, Erdogan announced on Friday, after he issued a decree turning the UNESCO World Heritage Site over to the country's religious directorate.

The court decision was followed quickly by President Erdogan saying that the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul would be reopened for Muslim worship, as per a report.

1453 - After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted from a Greek Orthodox cathedral into a mosque. It was the most-visited museum in Turkey previous year, drawing 3.7 million visitors, according to the website of Istanbul's governor.

Erdogan's announcement came after the cancellation by a top court of a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey's secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

Many people across the world including the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church have condemned Turkey's new move.

Lina Mendoni, the Greek culture minister, said in a statement that "the nationalism displayed by Erdogan. takes his country back six centuries".

The Russian Orthodox Church was equally scathing.

UNESCO said it "deeply regrets" Turkey's decision.


But it is the European Union, as the world's standard-bearer for the preservation of historic monuments, that has a particular duty to lead the Western world in making certain that the loss of one of mankind's greatest architectural accomplishments to a nationalist and religious movement never happens.

The restoration of the building to its Ottoman-era status is a major political coup by Turkey's pugnacious leader, who has repeatedly vowed to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque but faced intense pressure from the United States and other Western allies to abandon the plan.

He added that Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in peace in Istanbul since its conquest, and Turks treated other non-Muslim houses of prayers with utmost respect whereas numerous Ottoman artifacts in Eastern Europe and the Balkans gradually disappeared.

The president went on to say that Turkey's rights on Hagia Sophia was not any fewer than that of those who built the historical complex almost 1,500 years ago, adding, insisting that Hagia Sophia would remain as a museum would be an equal demand that the Vatican was turned into a museum and closed to worship. "For us (Hagia Sophia) remains a cathedral dedicated to the Saviour", he told state TV Rossiya24 late Friday. "The court lifted the chain of bans on Hagia Sophia", he wrote. This paves the way for the conversion, a move that Erdogan has supported. "Either today or tomorrow, the Hagia Sophia will be opened!" Hundreds of worshippers performed evening prayers outside the building after the adjustment to its status.

"It's been a dream since we were kids", said Erdal Gencler, an Istanbul resident. "We are very excited, proud, and hopeful that there will be handsome services here", he added.

Fatma, a woman with tears in her eyes, said: "Of course I am crying. (Hagia Sophia) belongs to us".

The Council of State threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group.

As momentum built for the conversion of the site in recent weeks, many questioned why the status of Hagia Sophia was a priority at a time when Turkey was wrestling with the coronavirus outbreak and the economic effect of the worldwide pandemic. It too was rejected by the Turkish Supreme in 2018.

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