Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday the opening of the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul for Muslims to perform prayer, in the wake of the nullity of a Turkish court and its current status as a museum.
“It was decided that the Hagia Sophia will be placed under the leadership of the Presidency of Religious Affairs and will be opened for prayer,” Erdogan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The Russian Church regretted not listening to “millions of Christians” in the Hagia Sophia case in Turkey.
On Friday, Turkey’s highest administrative court opened the way for the conversion of the former Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul to a mosque, by nullifying its current status as a museum, according to the media.
The Turkish State Council approved requests by several organizations to annul a government decision dating back to 1934 giving the site the status of a museum, according to the official Turkish Anadolu news agency.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for its part, has called for “concern” over the fate of the Hagia Sophia museum that could be turned into a mosque, Turkey for dialogue before any decision likely to “undermine the global value” of this world monument.
On July 2, the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, considered a move that could stir tension with the West and the Christian community abroad.
The Hagia Sophia Church was transformed into a mosque with the Ottomans taking control of Constantinople in 1453, then it became a museum in 1935 by the young Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk with the aim of “dedicating it to humanity”.
But her status was the focus of controversy.
Since 2005, organizations have resorted to the courts several times to demand that they be converted into a mosque again, but they have not yet succeeded.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly expressed his support for transforming the landmark into a mosque, which is known for his nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire and is seeking to obtain support for the conservative electoral base in light of the economic crisis caused by the spread of the emerging Coronavirus.
In response to a question to Agence France-Presse Friday, UNESCO-based Paris stressed in an email that “Hagia Sophia… was listed on the World Heritage List of Humanity as a museum that entailed a number of legal obligations”.
“Therefore, the state must ensure that any amendment does not negatively affect the global value of the sites listed on the UNESCO list.
Any amendment requires a prior notification to UNESCO from the country concerned and then an examination by the World Heritage Committee.
And UNESCO expressed “these fears to Turkey in several messages” and through a message I sent to the Turkish representative at UNESCO Thursday evening calling for “the Turkish authorities to start a dialogue before taking any decision that may undermine the global value of the site”.