Pompeo Urges Erdogan to drop plans to convert the 1,500-year-old church to a mosque
A Turkish court on Thursday decided to delay a decision on whether the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul should be converted into a mosque, the BBC reported. The Council of State – Turkey’s highest administrative body – said it would make a ruling within 15 days, after a hearing that lasted just 17 minutes.
The 1,500 year old UNESCO World Heritage site was originally a Greek Orthodox cathedral before becoming a mosque and then a museum in the 1930s.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the change during an election rally last year.
Islamists in Turkey have long called for it to be converted, but secular opposition members have opposed the move. The proposal has prompted international criticism, from religious and political leaders worldwide.
In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Erdogan not to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and said Istanbul’s celebrated former cathedral should remain open to all.
“We urge the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo said.
“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability — so rare in the modern world — to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo said that the United States hoped to maintain dialogue with Turkey over the preservation of religious and cultural sites.
The Istanbul Patriarch Bishop Sahak Mashalian has endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia’s status as a place of worship, but has urged to allocate space for Christians.
Last month, In Defense of Christians, the Armenian National Committee of America and the Hellenic American Leadership Council called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey’s continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the museum into a mosque.
“Holy sites of any and all faiths should be respected, preserved, and operated as places of worship within the faith tradition in which they were built and consecrated,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian told Asbarez Thursday.
“Thousands of Christian churches, cemeteries and other religious properties across the territory of present-day Turkey—stolen or seized through genocide—need to be immediately returned to their rightful owners and fully restored at state expense,” added Hamparian.