Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan has yet again caused a stir in Greece, after requesting that the historic former Greek Orthodox church of Hagia Sophia in the heart of Istanbul, be turned into mosque.
In view of local elections on March 31, Erdogan said this week that turning the Hagia Sophia into a museum was a “very big mistake”, adding that a change of status would be discussed after the elections, since it is “a demand” of the Turkish people for the Hagia Sophia to be turned into a mosque again.
“All decisions concerning the implementation of the World Heritage Convention are made by the World Heritage Committee. When a member state decides to change the name of a monument, it must submit these changes for approval to the Commission,” an UNESCO official was reported as telling Sputnik Turkey news site.
Last year, Turkey’s High Court ruled that Hagia Sophia cannot be used as a mosque and will remain a museum.
The Turkish court again rejected a petition filed by a local NGO several years ago requesting that Muslim prayers and readings from the Quran be allowed in Hagia Sophia. All petitions by the Turkish heritage association have been turned down.
Constructed between 532 and 537 on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the church was formerly the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and is one of Turkey’s main tourist attractions operating since 1935 as a museum.
The Greek Orthodox church was converted into a mosque in 1453, when Ottoman forces conquered the city known then as Constantinople, adding Islamic minarets. In the mid-1930s, the Kemal Ataturk government converted it to a museum.
A significant part of Greek heritage and history, the Hagia Sophia, which means “Church of Divine Wisdom” in Greek, is considered one of the world’s greatest Byzantine monuments, and an UNESCO World Heritage site.