President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected global condemnation of Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine Hagia Sophia monument to a mosque, saying it represented his country’s will to use its “sovereign rights”.
Erdogan, accused by critics of having eroded the secular pillars of the Muslim-majority country, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 on the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he repeatedly asked that the magnificent building be renamed a mosque.
“Those who do not take measures against Islamophobia in their own country … attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights,” said Erdogan at a ceremony which he attended by videoconference.
A magnet for tourists from around the world, Hagia Sophia was first built as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire, but was transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a high court overturned a cabinet decision of 1934 under the founder of the secularization of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church that has become a mosque as a museum .
“We made this decision not by looking at what others are saying, but by looking at what our law is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, Libya and elsewhere,” said Saturday the Turkish leader.
– “A blow to world Christianity” –
Erdogan followed through on the plan despite an open call from the NATO ally to the United States and Russia, with which Ankara has had close ties in recent years.
Greece quickly condemned this decision as a provocation, France deplored it while the United States also expressed disappointment.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said: “We regret” the decision, speaking to the Interfax news agency on Saturday.
“The cathedral is on the territory of Turkey, but it is undoubtedly everyone’s heritage,” he said.
“We would like to hope that (Turkey) will fully honor all the commitments linked to the cathedral’s World Heritage status, in terms of management, protection and access. ”
The influential bishop Hilarion, who heads the external relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church, expressed his sadness, speaking on Rossiya24 state television broadcast on Friday evening.
“We had hoped until the end that the Turkish leaders would overturn the decision and it brings great sorrow and great pain that the decision was made.
“It is a blow to world Christianity … For us (Hagia Sophia) remains a cathedral dedicated to the Savior. ”
“It is a debate that President Erdogan cannot lose and the opposition cannot win. In fact, this issue also has the potential to disunite opposition parties. ”
purse-four / dd
© 2020 AFP