Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly instructed government officials to “do a study” on how to change the status of Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine-era Greek Patriarchal cathedral that was later transformed into an Ottoman mosque before becoming a museum in 1935.
“Hagia Sophia can continue to be visited by tourists as a mosque, as is Sultanahmet [the Blue Mosque]. Our nation should decide on this,” Erdogan was quoted by Turkey’s Hurriyet on Friday as telling officials of his AKP party’s central executive board earlier in the week.
“Do a study for Hagia Sophia, let’s evaluate and talk,” he reportedly told officials, warning them to “be very sensitive” about the issue.
Last Friday, Imams recited verses of the Quran inside Istanbul’s Byzantine-era cathedral on the anniversary of the city’s 1453 conquest by Ottoman troops.
The UNESCO World Heritage site was built in the 6th century as the main seat of the Greek Orthodox church. It remained so until it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of the city, then-known as Constantinople, in 1453. Turkey’s secular founder turned the structure into a museum in 1935 that attracts millions of tourists each year.
The Hellenic American Leadership Council, the Armenian National Committee of America and In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group calling for religious equality in the Middle East, have called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey’s continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia’s status. Meanwhile the three organizations have launched a social media campaign asking people to add their name and tell UNESCO to #SaveHagiaSophia: https://hellenicleaders.p2a.co/CzLeJm6
The letter to UNESCO says:
The undersigned are joining In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) asking you to respond to Turkey’s continued threats to violate Hagia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by converting the museum into a mosque.
Turkey’s continued targeting of the Hagia Sophia, which is part of our collective heritage, is unacceptable.
We agree with the Greek Foreign Ministry’s observation that “This action is an insult to the international community and once again exposes Turkey, which has an obligation to respect both the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and UNESCO, of which it is a member.”
Neither silence nor quiet diplomacy have proven to temper Turkey’s outrageous behavior. A lack of a strong UNESCO response at this point constitutes complicity with Turkey’s attempts to eradicate Christian heritage and ultimately Christian minorities.