UNESCO regrets Turkish move to convert 6th century iconic museum Hagia Sophia into mosque

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Updated: Jul 11, 2020 2:41 PM

The UN's cultural agency has voiced deep regret over Turkey's decision, made without prior discussion, to convert Istanbul's iconic sixth-century Hagia Sophia into a mosque, saying its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue.

UNESCO, Hagia Sophia museum, Ottoman Empire, UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azoulay, turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, world newsThe ancient Hagia Sophia was founded around 1,500 years ago as a cathedral and is widely regarded as the foremost example of Byzantine Christian architecture in the world. Photo source: Reuters)

The UN’s cultural agency has voiced deep regret over Turkey’s decision, made without prior discussion, to convert Istanbul’s iconic sixth-century Hagia Sophia into a mosque, saying its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue.

The ancient Hagia Sophia was founded around 1,500 years ago as a cathedral and is widely regarded as the foremost example of Byzantine Christian architecture in the world. Following the rise of the Ottoman Empire, it became a mosque, but in 1934, was designated a secular museum, shared by Christians, Muslims and those of all faiths or none, alike.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree following years of campaigning by a cultural association, and the decision earlier in the day by a Turkish court, handing control of the building over to the nation’s religious directorate, allowing it to reopen for worship as a mosque, the UN said in a statement.

”Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement on Friday.

Azoulay said that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) “deeply regrets” the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, to change the status of Hagia Sophia and shared her serious concern with the Ambassador of Turkey to the UN cultural agency.

Responding to questions on the issue, UN spokesperson St.phane Dujarric said at his daily press briefing that the UN Secretary-General fully backs UNESCO. ”They have the primary responsibility within the UN system on dealing with the maintenance of these global heritage sites. So, they are rightly in the lead, and we are supporting them,” he said.

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