Converting Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable”, a senior official in the Russian Orthodox Church said on Saturday.
“We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said on state television, the Interfax news agency reported.
“We live in a multipolar world, we live in a multi-confessional world and we need to respect the feelings of believers.”
He said the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the motive for Hagia Sophia’s conversion and that it believed domestic politics was behind the move.
“We believe that in the current conditions this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” he was quoted as saying.
On Thursday, Turkey announced that the decision on whether Hagia Sophia turns into a mosque, will be made within 15 days, as reported by Greek City Times.
“The hearing lasted about 17 minutes. The Council of State completed the hearing to explain later the 10th Ministry’s decision on the request for Hagia Sophia. The Council of State will announce its decision within 15 days,” the court said in a statement.
In response, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that “Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument… Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the U.S State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey,” during the daily press briefing.
The proposal has been criticised by other religious and political leaders.
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.”