Religious and political leaders denounce Turkey’s decision to transform the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, known for its Christian origin and as the most popular tourist site in the secular Muslim nation, into a mosque.
Built as a Greek Orthodox church almost 1,500 years ago and transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of 1453, the Unesco World Heritage Site became a museum in 1934 under the founding father of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Today, it attracts more than 3.7 million visitors a year.
CATHOLIC CHURCHES ARE BURNED AND VANDALIZED ON THE WEEKEND AS A POLICE INVESTIGATION: “O’S IS THE OUTRAGE? “
Last week, however, a Turkish court ruled that the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum was illegal and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again declared the construction of a mosque, reports the BBC.
“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to residents and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” Erdogan said at a press conference noting that Muslim prayer would begin on July 24.
On Tuesday, Greece, which is home to a large number of citizens who revere the 6th century building as the focal point of their Orthodox Christian faith, called it a “small” measure.
SUDAN IS MOVING TO REPEAL SOME ISLAMIST LAWS AFTER 30 YEARS IN PLACE
“With this retrograde action, Turkey chooses to sever ties with the Western world and its values,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The move has also been criticized by the World Council of Churches and the Church of Russia, home to the largest Orthodox Christian community in the world, and the head of the Catholic Church.
“My thoughts are with Istanbul. I am thinking of Hagia Sophia and I am very sad, ”said the pope during a service at the Vatican.
Unesco has declared that its World Heritage Committee will review the status of the monument.
5 DEAD IN SITUATION OF HOSTAGES AT THE CHURCH OF SOUTH AFRICA; 40 ORDER
According to an Arabic Facebook article, Erdogan said that “the rebirth of Hagia Sophia is a sign for the return of freedom from the al-Aqsa mosque” in Jerusalem, reports CBN News.
The move comes as the United States faces protests calling for the destruction of monuments and symbols. People around the world are concerned that Islamists may try to recover other sites after the move from Turkey.
The Israel-based Genesis 123 Foundation called it “a direct attack on Christians and the Christian heritage in the Middle East” in a petition to “save Hagia Sophia from Islamic extremists”.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
“We call on the government of Turkey to reverse its decision and maintain Hagia Sophia as a World Heritage site open to all. We call on the governments of the world to implore Turkey to reverse this action, “said Jonathan Feldstein, president of Genesis. 123 Foundation, wrote.
Aykan Erdemir, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that Erdogan “once again affirmed Islamic supremacism and the domination of the ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.