Turkey firmly rejected EU condemnations of its decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed the decree last Friday, allowing the operation of Hagia Sophia as a “functioning mosque”, according to which the country’s General Directorate of Religious Affairs would take control of the building.
Erdoğan also announced that Hagia Sophia mosque will be open for prayer on July 24.
According to Hürriyet, Hagia Sophia will be open for prayer but also for tourists who want to visit it. They said that icons and mosaics will be covered with special technology and lighting.
“Turkey rejects the words of condemnation used by the EU for turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque,” Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said during a meeting with his Maltese counterpart in the capital Ankara.
The decision sparked criticism from around the world.
EU foreign ministers, holding their first face-to-face meeting in months on Monday, declared that they “condemned” the decision. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said there was “broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently consider and reverse this decision.”
Cavusoglu added that “if [Josep] Borell, EU foreign policy chief, said ‘it would be better if it didn’t open,’ I respect that. If he said “it would be better if it stayed a museum,’ I also respect that,’ but we reject the word ‘condemn’.”
Pointing to the 800-year Moorish heritage in Spain, he added: “In Spain, there are some mosques which were turned into churches. So now shall we say to Spain, ‘convert those back into mosques, we condemn you’?”
“This is a matter that concerns Turkey’s sovereign rights,” he continued.
On Tuesday, Greece again expressed dismay at Turkey’s decision. The Turkish president’s “unprecedented decision on Hagia Sophia, which hurts us as Orthodox Christians but also as citizens of the world,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
“Hagia Sophia has followed an ecumenical course. It was Orthodox, Catholic and a mosque, and eventually became a world monument, something that does not change. Hagia Sophia surpasses us all. We will see if it continues to remain a UNESCO monument,” he added.
Meanwhile, Greece will be imposing sanctions against Turkey for its decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.