Converting the Istanbul Hagia Sophia monument from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable,” a senior official of the Russian Orthodox Church said on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed to restore the mosque status of the World Heritage site recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – a 6th century building in the heart of the Byzantine Christian and Ottoman Muslim empires and today one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
“We cannot go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate, said on state television.
“We live in a multi-polar world, we live in a multi-faith world and we have to respect the feelings of believers. ”
He said that the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the reason for the conversion of Hagia Sophia and that she believed that domestic policy was behind this decision.
|Hagia Sophia in Turkey and the battle to convert it into a mosque|
“We believe that under current conditions, this act constitutes an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” said Hilarion.
A Turkish court heard a case to convert the building into a mosque earlier this week and will announce its verdict later this month.
The case, launched by an NGO for the preservation of historic monuments, challenges the legality of a decision made in 1934, during the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to convert Hagia Sophia – known in under the name of Ayasofya – of a mosque in a museum.
The proposal has been criticized by other religious and political leaders.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, based in Istanbul and spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, said that the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque would disappoint Christians and “fracture” East and West.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also urged Turkey to keep the building as a museum.
Erdogan described foreign criticism of the proposal as an attack on the sovereignty of Turkey.