Byzantine Studies Congress protest against Hagia Sophia conversion by changing conference location

Hagia Sophia Dendias

Hagia Sophia

The Organising Committee of the International Congress of Byzantine Studies has announced that it has postponed this year’s congress and Istanbul will no longer hold the event, Turkey's Gazete Duvar reported.

“After careful discussion with all colleagues involved with the organization of the 2021 International Congress of Byzantine Studies in Istanbul, that the Congress should be postponed until 2022, and that it will no longer be held in Istanbul. A new venue will be announced as soon as it can be confirmed, probably in September 2020,” the organising committee said in a written statement.

The Congress said that “other concerns associated with issues of heritage management” is why they have decided to move the conference location from Constantinople.

Professor of the International Byzantine Committee, John Haldon, said in an open letter that "as President of the International Association of Byzantine Studies and on behalf of all members of the Association as well as the wider scholarly community, I write to condemn in the strongest terms the recent decision of the Turkish Council of State and of the President of the Turkish Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to return the Ayasofya [Hagia Sophia] Museum to its former status of a mosque."

He said that the decision to convert Hagia Sophia severely damages Turkey's supposed international standing and "damages Turkish scholarship and research in both the humanities as well as the natural sciences in a way that is likely to have direct consequences for Turkish participation in international scientific enquiry for some years to come."

"The Turkish government and its leadership should take notice of the international reaction to their short-sighted and ignorant gesture. Their actions can only harm their own interests and those of the people they aspire to represent," the professor concluded.