Istanbul - Turkish court approves conversion of Hagia Sophia The famous museum is to be used again as a mosque despite worldwide protests. Unesco had warned of this because of the World Heritage title. © Photo: Reuters / Murad Sezer
The foreign ministry in Berlin believes that the rededication of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque will "certainly" be on the agenda of the next meeting of the UN cultural organization Unesco. The world-famous building has been a World Heritage Site since 1985 and belongs to the heritage of mankind, said a spokesman for the Foreign Office. That is why Turkey should have consulted Unesco before the reallocation. That was not done.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the German government had "regretted" Turkey's decision. Hagia Sophia is of great cultural, historical and religious importance for both Christianity and Islam.
The Federal Government attaches great importance to inter-religious dialogue. The status as a museum gave people of all faiths free access to this "masterpiece" at all times. Now it was time to wait and see what the further regulation of use and design would look like.
Turkish Foreign Minister "surprised" by Unesco response
Turkey's announcement to rededicate the world-famous religious building in Istanbul had generated international criticism. The Turkish Supreme Administrative Court lifted the building's status as a museum on Friday. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then signed a decree for use as a mosque and announced the first Friday prayer for July 24. Unesco announced it would review the building's status as a World Heritage Site.
After criticism from Unesco, Turkey announced that it would inform the UN agency in the future. The UNESCO response was surprised and the organization would be informed of the next steps, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul.
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn spoke of a "strike against the Alliance of Civilizations". The initiative, co-founded by Turkey, was thus erased in his eyes, said Asselborn at an EU foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels. "This is not good." The UN Alliance of Civilizations was launched in 2005 at the suggestion of former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and former Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan. The goal should be a better understanding between the western and the oriental world.
The "youngest link in a chain of provocations"
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg called for the EU to change course towards Turkey. The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is only the "youngest link in a chain of provocations," said Schallenberg in Brussels. Turkey's behavior in conflicts such as Libya or the gas drilling off Cyprus, which the EU considers illegal, showed that the country is "simply not a reliable partner for Europe". Schallenberg called for the EU "a policy with a strong edge towards Turkey".
He reaffirmed Austria's position to end negotiations with the country on joining the EU. "I believe that the European Union should also make a clear cut here." Given the mass arrests of government critics after the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, negotiations with the EU are already on hold.
Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537 as the imperial church of the Byzantium of the Greek Orthodox Empire and was the largest church in Christianity. After the conquest of Constantinople, today's Istanbul, by the Turkish Ottomans, it became a mosque in 1453. Republic founder Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" made it a museum in 1934.