President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decree to convert the Hagia Sophia museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque has received sharp criticism from Greece and many political and world leaders.
Greece strongly condemns Turkey’s decision to turn the World Heritage monument of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday, noting that this “insults its ecumenical character”.
In a statement, the premier said, “This decision – coming 85 years after it was declared a museum – is an insult to its ecumenical character. It also constitutes a choice that similarly insults all those who recognize the monument as part of world culture.”
The decision, Mitsotakis underlined, “affects not only Turkey’s relations with Greece, but those with the European Union, UNESCO, and the global community as a whole.”
“It is regrettable that the Turkish leadership, which in 2005 worked for the Alliance of Cultures, now chooses to move in the entirely opposite direction,” he said.
Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of Greece, tweeted that the decision is “profoundly provocative”, and “it brutally insults historical memory.”
The decision of the Turkish leadership to turn #HagiaSophia into a mosque is a profoundly provocative act against the international community. It brutally insults historical memory, undermines the value of tolerance, and poisons Turkey's relations with the entire civilized world. pic.twitter.com/OwwCiT1Tfg
— President GR (@PresidencyGR) July 10, 2020
The U.S. State Department expressed “disappointment”. “We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
While taking part in a teleconference with fellow ministers of the European People’s Party, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in a Twitter post that “I informed my colleagues about the challenge it poses to world cultural heritage, as well as to UNESCO, the decision annulling the decree of Kemal Ataturk in 1934, for the protection of Hagia Sophia through its conversion into a Museum.”
— Nikos Dendias (@NikosDendias) July 10, 2020
Greece’s Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni echoed similar sentiments in a written statement, stating that “Today’s decision, which came as a result of the political will of President Erdogan, is an open provocation to the civilized world which recognizes the unique value and ecumenical nature of the monument.”
Minister Mendoni had recently tried to appeal to UNESCO to call out Turkey for trying to wrongfully convert the historical monument into a mosque, citing various legalities.
World leaders expressed their similar concerns about Turkey’s decision to annul the 1935 decision that paved the way for the 1,500 year old structure to become a museum.
In a series of tweets, Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides strongly condemned Turkey’s actions, saying “Cyprus is poignantly a victim, since the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of part of its territory, of Turkey’s orchestrated policy of destruction and looting of religious and cultural heritage monuments.
“Turkey’s escalating, flagrant violation of its international obligations is manifested in its decision to alter the designation of Hagia Sophia, a world heritage site that is a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith.”
— NikosChristodoulides (@Christodulides) July 10, 2020
Russian Orthodox Church official Vladimir Legoida was also quoted by TASS News Agency as stating “It is a real shame that the concerns of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox churches were not heard. This decision, alas, is not aimed at reconciling existing differences, but on the contrary, may lead to even greater divisions, as Patriarch Kirill said in his statement on July 6.”
The US, the UK and countries belonging to the European Union spoke out against President Erdogan’s efforts for wanting to convert Hagia Sophia, which had been a secular museum since 1935, into a mosque in the days leading up to the decision.
In a statement made on Greek channel MEGA, Vice President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas, also took a stand against the issue, saying that Hagia Sophia was a “global symbol of peaceful coexistence between religions and cultures.”
It is expected that the European Union will also issue an official response to the Turkish decree in the near future.