The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemned Turkey’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.
PACE’s Committee on Culture, Science, Education & Media also adopted a written declaration, which says the decision is “a discriminatory step backward, that clearly undermines Turkey’s secular identity and multicultural legacy.”
This decision was hailed by Member of the Hellenic Parliament Dora Bakoyannis, as Europe’s response to Turkey’s “systematic violations of democratic principles and values.”
Bakoyannis said both Greek and Cypriot delegations have been raising awareness and mobilizing members of the Parliamentary Assembly for months.
“Turkey’s unilateral decision was condemned as unacceptable and incomprehensible, as a divisive move of discrimination contrary to all the principles of the Council,” she said.
UNESCO has responded to numerous inaccurate statements from the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism.
It is recalled last month Mehmet Nuri Ersoy reportedly stated that “since Greece complained about us to UNESCO, its representative came and made remarks. They are not bothered by the fact that it became a mosque.”
“The UNESCO vice-president who came, told me that their main criterion is for Hagia Sophia to be open for people to visit and for it to be protected,” the minister was quoted as saying.
The announcement posted on the UNESCO website states that:
- UNESCO reacted to the change of Hagia Sophia’s status as early as July 2020 and expressed its concern in this regard. This position has remained constant since then.
- UNESCO immediately initiated a review process and sent a mission to the property from 5 to 9 October 2020, led by an eminent cultural heritage expert, to look in detail at each of the potential implications of this change in status, and their impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. This review, which covers several components of the property Historic Areas of Istanbul, in particular Hagia Sophia and Chora, is still ongoing. The report referred to has not been finalized and no conclusions can be drawn at this time.
The statement was welcomed by Greece’s Minister of Culture and Sport, Lina Mendoni: “It is very important that the Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay has issued three announcements since the issue of the change of status of Hagia Sophia was raised. The reaction of the Director-General, who is in charge of representing the International Organisation, expresses her real concern and interest. Of course, we will have to wait for the results of the report of the inspectors who are examining the change of the status of Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora, from museums to mosques.”
Last month, the General Directorate of Institutions (which is under the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism), announced a tender for the construction of toilets inside Hagia Sophia. The toilets are scheduled to be completed by August 11, 2021.