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Greece Asks UNESCO to Press Turkey on Hagia Sophia Vandalism

Hagia Sophia vandalism
The Imperial Gate in Hagia Sophia has been damaged. Credit: Twitter/Turkish Union of Art History, STD

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his “sadness and disgust” at the vandalism to a door of Hagia Sophia in a call with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, on Thursday.

Mitsotakis said that the damage to the Imperial Gate demonstrated disrespect for the monument’s history, integrity, and universal character.

Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 15th-century door was used by Byzantine emperors to enter the most significant Orthodox place of worship.

According to the prime minister’s office, Azoulay reiterated her organization’s concerns over the repercussions of the Turkish government’s decision in 2020 to turn Hagia Sophia, then a museum, into a mosque and said she will request an explanation from authorities.

Earlier this week, the Turkish Union of Art History posted a photograph depicting the damage to the 15th-century door.

Istanbul Provincial Directorate of Foundations has begun an investigation to identify the vandals of the Imperial Gate, Turkish daily Hurriyet reports.

Hayrullah Çebi, the head of the provincial directorate of foundations, confirmed the assault and said, “A citizen has taken a piece of the door. We have started a probe.” Mahir Polat, the deputy secretary-general of the Istanbul Metropolis Municipality, is quoted by the Turkish paper as saying: “Those who did this will face jail terms between two to five years.”

The Greek Foreign Ministry also condemned the incident in a statement. The vandalism of the Imperial Door “causes us revulsion and sadness,” it tweeted on Tuesday.

“We call on relevant authorities to to do what is necessary so that those responsible can be brought to justice,” said the Greek ministry, adding “and to also immediately repair the damage to this monument.”

Hagia Sophia’s conversion to a mosque condemned

Built in 537 as the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople.

The complex remained a mosque until 1935 when it was reopened after a four-year closure as a museum. In July 2020, Turkey’s Council of State annulled the 1934 decision to establish the museum, and Hagia Sophia was converted back into a mosque.

Turkey’s decision to change the site once again has faced international criticism.


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