Criticisms of Hagia Sophia status is an attack on Turkish sovereignty, says Erdoğan

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*Image Credit: middleeasteye

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke for the first time about Hagia Sophia after the meeting of the Turkish Council of State, according to Ant1News.

Just a day after Turkey announced that the decision on whether Hagia Sophia turns into a mosque, will be made within 15 days, Erdogan launched an attack not only against Greece, but against those who sided with them.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Levent Mosque in Istanbul, the Turkish president said: "Criticising such a country through places of worship means turning your back on the truth. The charges against us, against Hagia Sophia are a direct attack on our sovereign rights."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow was waiting for a balanced decision that would take into account UNESCO guidelines. "We consider the temple extremely important for all humanity in terms of culture and history. UNESCO has included Hagia Sophia in the list of World Heritage Sites and we believe that any request related to the change of this regime should take this fact into account."

"We expect that any decisions on the status of this unique monument will take into account the high sensitivity of this issue for the faithful, the well-known interfaith framework and the established practice of international law for determining the UNESCO World Heritage management," she concluded.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry demanded that Hagia Sophia remain “open to all”, a few hours after the Turkish State Council considered the request to turn the museum into a mosque.

“A symbol of secularism and multiculturalism, this place must remain open to all”, a ministry spokesman said, sending a message to Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the need to respect the monument.

Tell UNESCO to save Hagia Sophia, sign here!

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Turkey not to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque and maintain that its status as a museum should remain, as reported by Greek City Times.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, also warned this week that if Turkey persists with plans to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, it risks turning Christians against Muslims.

Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Assistant Director-General for Culture said that UNESCO sent a letter to the Turkish authorities at the beginning of June regarding Erdogan’s announcement to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

The UNESCO Executive made the comments during an interview with Greek newspaper Ta NEA last week, where he added that they have not yet received a reply. He stressed that the Convention on World Cultural Heritage stipulates that before any decision can be taken to change the status of a Cultural Heritage Monument, such as Hagia Sophia, a decision of the relevant UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee is required.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 537 but turned into a mosque following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople May 29, 1453. It was then turned into a museum in 1935 shortly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Turkish Republic.

Earlier this year, excerpts from the Qur’an were recited inside Hagia Sophia to commemorate the Fall of Constantinople. The Greek Foreign Ministry commented on this provocative action, saying that the “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.”