The reclassification of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque is clearly criticized outside of Turkey - especially in Greece and Russia. The EU, Russia and the USA called the decision "unfortunate".
Greece condemned the behavior of Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdoğan. The latter has "made a historical mistake," said Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas. Greece will do everything "it can to have consequences for Turkey". He did not give details. There must be an appropriate response to this insult to the Christian world, said Petsas. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had previously said that Erdoğan's decision would have an impact on Turkey's relations with the EU.
The conservative Greek newspaper Kathimerini said: "Hagia Sophia has fallen victim to Erdoğan's megalomania". "Nonsense without end," it said in the conservative newspaper Eleftheros Typos . According to Greek commentators, under Erdoğan Turkey is rapidly moving away from secularism, the separation of state and religion, and is on the way to full Islamization.
The Supreme Administrative Court in Turkey had canceled the status of the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as a museum on Friday, allowing the former church to be used as a mosque. This could be the first time in two weeks. "We plan to finish the preparations as soon as possible and to open Hagia Sophia together with the Friday prayer for prayers on Friday, July 24, 2020," said Erdoğan.
The status of the building is a political issue. Nationalist and religious groups led by the ruling AKP party see the landmark as a legacy of the Islamic-Ottoman Empire. Opponents see Hagia Sophia as a symbol of Muslim and Christian solidarity, which should be preserved as a museum.
"Hagia Sophia is an important symbol for all Orthodox Christians in the world"
There was also criticism from Russia. Metropolitan Ilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate spoke on Russian state television of a blow to orthodoxy. "For all Orthodox Christians in the world, Hagia Sophia is an important symbol, like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for Catholics." The rededication would affect Turkey's relationship with the Christian world. The domestic political situation in Turkey and the factors that would have led to the rededication could be assessed differently, the Metropolitan continues. "But the intellectual and cultural heritage of an entire world should not be taken hostage to a political situation."
Russia's deputy foreign minister Alexander Gruschko recalled the importance of Hagia Sophia. There are not many symbols today with such a centuries-old history that would have had an impact on the development of humanity, he told the Interfax news agency . Gruschko expects Turkey to protect the building, to preserve it and to keep it open to the public: "I very much hope that all commitments (...) will be fully implemented." Similar voices came from the United States. The World Heritage Site must remain open to all visitors, it said.
Josep Borell calls Turkish decision "unfortunate"
The EU also spoke out in favor of preserving a museum: EU Commission Vice Margaritis Schinas said otherwise tolerance and openness would undermine Istanbul. Hagia Sophia is a symbol of cross-faith and intercultural dialogue, said Schinas. In 2010, when Istanbul was the European Capital of Culture, Erdoğan said the metropolis was a European city. The Turkish head of state is now expected to do so ten years later, saying that Istanbul has always looked to Europe.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell called the Turkish decision "unfortunate". Turkey, as a founding member of the Alliance of Civilizations, has committed to promoting interfaith dialogue and tolerance.
Unesco regrets the transformation. Secretary General Audrey Azoulay expressed her deep concern to the Turkish ambassador on Friday evening. The decision was made without prior dialogue. "Saint Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to the encounter between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universality of its heritage and makes it a strong symbol of dialogue," said Azoulay.
The Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century AD and was the main church of the Byzantine Empire in which the emperors were crowned. After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople at the time in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque and added four minarets to the exterior. In 1934, the Council of Ministers ordered the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum, in accordance with the efforts of the Turkish republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.