WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement in reaction to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to convert the Hagia Museum of Istanbul from a world-famous cultural site into a mosque:
“Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey is a place of deep spiritual significance for people of diverse backgrounds from around the world. For more than three quarters of a century, Turkish policy maintained this revered building as a museum, but President Erdogan today signed a decree that removes this museum status and converts it into a mosque.
“We strongly denounce President Erdogan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque. At points in its history, Hagia Sophia served as a place of worship for Muslims and Christians, and for decades has been an extraordinary and welcoming center to people of all faiths. Erdogan’s move today is a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site. This conversion of its status is unnecessarily divisive at a time when we need more, not fewer, efforts to build bridges between Islam and Christianity. We strongly urge Erdogan to reverse this decision and sustain Hagia Sophia’s remarkable legacy and maintain its status as religiously neutral museum for peoples of all faiths and cultures to visit and celebrate our common world heritage.