Istanbul, June 30, 2020
Despite protests coming from around the world, including UNESCO, which includes Agia Sophia in its list of World Heritage Sites, the Turkish government is moving ahead with its intentions and plans to convert world-famous Agia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque.
Several NGOs have taken up the fight in the run-up to State Council of Turkey’s official consideration of the possibility of changing the status of Agia Sophia on July 2. According to Turkish media, kiosks were set up throughout Turkey last week, where more than 10,000 signatures were gathered in support of the government’s plans, to be delivered to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reports Romfea.
Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül noted that “the Agia Sophia mosque is the only mosque that is entered through a ticket office. We’re all waiting for this disgrace to come to an end.”
“All necessary steps will be taken” towards opening Agia Sophia as a place of worship, he emphasized. Built in the 6th century as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, Agia Sophia later functioned as a mosque after the fall of Byzantium in 1453 until it was converted into a museum in 1934.
Meanwhile, UNESCO officials have announced that they have been monitoring the situation ever since Erdoğan began publicly speaking about converting Agia Sophia a month ago.
In an interview with the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, noted that UNESCO had sent a letter to Turkish authorities in early June with a number of questions, though it has as yet received no reply.
“We will continue to send letters until we receive a reply. The matter will be assessed at the next meeting of the Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage,” he said, noting the committee must vote before any change to the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Thus far, Turkish officials have been content to rebuff protests from other states, declaring that Turkey can do what it wants with its own property.