New York City Greek-American elected officials are calling on the Trump administration to formally rebuff Turkey’s President, Recep Erdogan, for his decision to close the historic Hagia Sophia as a museum.
State Senators Michael Gianaris and Andrew Gounardes, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, and Council Member Costa Constantinides sent a letter to President Trump last week, asking that he finally stand up to the Turkish strongman who’s long been accused of suppressing his own people’s civil rights.
“This newfound policy is a strong-armed blow to inclusivity and pluralism. We must stand together in holding agitators accountable and upholding democratic values,” the lawmakers wrote.
“As leaders of communities from New York City, a place you know well, we see firsthand how love of our neighbors holds us all together. When we cast aside this principle, we very quickly entreat into rivalries. The Hagia Sophia is an Earthly manifestation of neighborly love and the arc of history that points us to our shared values,” they stressed.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear President Trump,
Earlier this month, the Turkish government turned back the clock when it changed the status of the world-renown Hagia Sophia, from a museum to a house of worship. We write to express our deep lament and the urgency to unequivocally denounce this divisive decision. The United States is home to millions of Eastern Orthodox, who decry the Turkish government’s move and interpret it as an attempt to erase their history and religious observance. This is an issue, however, that spurs emotion beyond the Orthodox faithful. This newfound policy is a strong-armed blow to inclusivity and pluralism. We must stand together in holding agitators accountable and upholding democratic values.
The Hagia Sophia is far more than a relic of a bygone era and its significance transcends beyond brick and mortar. For nearly an entire millennium, it has stood as a testament of ingenuity and excellence, a marvel of architecture, and a symbolic meeting place between east and west. It has survived invasions, crusades, world wars, and revolutions. Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims have, at some point over the last 1,500 years, used Hagia Sophia as their house of worship. Where so many other historic structures have fallen, the Hagia Sophia has survived — no doubt a testament to mankind’s consensus that such works of art must survive.
Millions of visitors flock to the Hagia Sophia every year to experience this awe. To contemplate each and every human soul that has gone to the Hagia Sophia seeking a spiritual connection is humbling at its core. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has long recognized this tradition and designated the Hagia Sophia a World Heritage site. Preserving the Hagia Sophia as a monument of such a storied legacy is incredibly important to the present moment, when intense divisions threaten the globe.
All humans instinctively cling to the notion that our existence is meaningful and our contributions to life on this Earth have an impact on future generations. Perhaps this is why historians generally subscribe to the idea that there is an arc to human history, that we are all actors in a larger story. Leaders and nations must rise to define what the story of the 21st Century will be. It cannot be mired in competition for space, significance, recognition, or resources. As leaders of communities from New York City, a place you know well, we see firsthand how love of our neighbors holds us all together. When we cast aside this principle, we very quickly entreat into rivalries. The Hagia Sophia is an Earthly manifestation of neighborly love and the arc of history that points us to our shared values.
While we write to you as Greek Orthodox who are particularly concerned, we hope that you too can appreciate the Hagia Sophia and protect what it symbolizes: exchange and spiritual connection.
New York City Council Member, 22nd District
New York State Senator, 12th District
New York State Senator, 22nd District
New York State Assembly Member, 36th District