The US, Greece and Russia Express Alarm At Turkish Bid To Turn Hagia Sophia, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Into A Mosque

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The US, Greece and Russia Express Alarm At Turkish Bid To Turn Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Into A Mosque

Much of the world has reacted in shock as it emerged that Turkish law courts and Turkish politicians are aiming to turn a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, into a mosque. The former Christian orthodox church was built in the year 537, during the Byzantine Empire, and for almost 1000 years served as a holy place for Christians until it was captured by the Ottoman Empire and turned into a mosque in 1453. Since 1935, the building has lain as a UNESCO museum and is regarded as a masterpiece of ancient architecture.


Many officials in Turkey are now wishing to see the building converted into a mosque, with the Turkish President Recep Erdogan, favouring the plan and reading extracts from the Quran inside the building both in 2018 and in 2020. He stated:


"Al-Fath surah (an Islamic prayer) will be recited and prayers will be done at Hagia Sophia as part of conquest festival."


The 'conquest festival' in Turkey celebrates the Islamic conquest of Christian Turkey (then part of the Christian Byzantium Empire).


World leaders, most vocally from Greece and Russia, but also the United States, have condemned the intentions of the Turkish state. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has said that the move risks turning the Christian and Muslim worlds against each other and that he hoped sense would prevail. While the Greek Foreign Ministry also declared their anger at the move. Saying:


"Reading of excerpts from the Qur'an inside Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the World Cultural Heritage Site, and that has been a museum since 1935, is an unacceptable attempt to alter its monumental character and provoke a response to their religious sentiment. This action offends the international community and re-exposes Turkey, which must respect both the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and UNESCO, of which it is a member."


The US Foreign Ministry added:


"The Government of Turkey has administered the Hagia Sophia as a museum – officially recognized by UNESCO as part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site – in an outstanding manner for nearly a century. We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all."


Unusually in world affairs, this is something that Russia and the United States agree upon. While the Russian state voiced their concerns, the most scathing opposition was from the Russian Orthodox leadership. With the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, arguing that:


"A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the whole of Christian civilization, and therefore to our spirituality and history … To this day, for every Russian Orthodox person, Hagia Sophia is a great Christian shrine."


Any move to unilaterally occupy such a site may play well to Erdogan's Islamist base in Turkey and the Muslim world but is likely to further alienate it from the Western world.

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Thinking Humanity: The US, Greece and Russia Express Alarm At Turkish Bid To Turn Hagia Sophia, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Into A Mosque
The US, Greece and Russia Express Alarm At Turkish Bid To Turn Hagia Sophia, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Into A Mosque
Much of the world has reacted in shock as it emerged that Turkish law courts and Turkish politicians are aiming to turn a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, into a mosque. The former Christian orthodox church was built in the year 537, during the Byzantine Empire, and for almost 1000 years served as a holy place for Christians until it was captured by the Ottoman Empire and turned into a mosque in 1453. Since 1935, the building has lain as a UNESCO museum and is regarded as a masterpiece of ancient architecture.
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