Turkish government announced that Istanbul’s world-famous tourist attraction will be turned into a mosque, citing today’s court decision. Turkish court ruled on Friday that the 1934 decree converting Istanbul’s ancient Byzantine cathedral Hagia Sophia into a museum was not lawful.Immediately after the ruling, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shared a copy of a decree on Twitter and signed a decree opening the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
Dating back to the 6th century, the Hagia Sophia is one of the most visited cultural sites in Turkey, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNESCO has expressed concern over Erdogan’s vision for the historic structure, noting in a statement on Friday that the building has a ‘strong symbolic and universal value.’ It called on Turkey to ‘engage in dialogue’ before taking any steps that might impact its universal value.
Even before his decree was issued, the Turkish president’s plan was condemned by leaders of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, who warned that it would be seen as an affront to Christians and create a fracture between East and West. Washington has also urged Turkey to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum.
Erdogan spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin tried to do some damage control, claiming that opening the Hagia Sophia for worship will not prevent local or foreign tourists from visiting the iconic site and that a loss of the structure as a world heritage site is not in question.