The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) welcomed a comment by the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, who urged Turkey to abandon plans to reconvert the 6th century monument of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
“We greatly appreciate Ambassador Brownback’s and the State Department’s repeated statements on the need to respect Hagia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said.
The American Hellenic Institute is a Greek American organisation created in 1974 to strengthen US-Greece and US-Cyprus relations, as well as relations within Hellenic-American community. The group has a lobbying focus, which distinguishes it from the other organisations associated with AHI.
“The Erdogan regime’s threats towards the Hagia Sophia, and more broadly, religious minorities, are deeply concerning. Turkey’s historical mistreatment of religious minorities violate fundamental human rights, religious freedom, and US law.”
The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual & cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world. We call on the Govt of #Turkey to maintain it as a @UNESCO World Heritage site & to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum.
— Ambassador Sam Brownback (@IRF_Ambassador) June 25, 2020
Yesterday, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, warned that if Turkey persists with plans to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, it risks turning Christians against Muslims.
According to the Orthodoxia news agency, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church stated that “the potential conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will turn millions of Christians around the world against Islam.”
“We hope that wisdom and reason ultimately prevail,” His All Holiness added.
Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Assistant Director-General for Culture said that UNESCO sent a letter to the Turkish authorities at the beginning of June regarding Erdogan’s announcement to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The UNESCO Executive made the comments during an interview with Greek newspaper Ta NEA last week, where he added that they have not yet received a reply. He stressed that the Convention on World Cultural Heritage stipulates that before any decision can be taken to change the status of a Cultural Heritage Monument, such as Hagia Sophia, a decision of the relevant UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee is required.
It is recalled that last week, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, expressed grief over plans by Turkey to convert the 6th-century former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
“What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch during an interview with the Washington Post.
He stressed that in Istanbul “we have survived for 17 centuries and we will stay here forever, as God wills.”
The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 537 but turned into a mosque following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople May 29, 1453. It was then turned into a museum in 1935 shortly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Turkish Republic.
Earlier this year, excerpts from the Qur’an were recited inside Hagia Sophia to commemorate the Fall of Constantinople. The Greek Foreign Ministry commented on this provocative action, saying that the “reading of excerpts from the Qur’an inside Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the World Cultural Heritage Site, and that has been a museum since 1935, is an unacceptable attempt to alter its monumental character and provoke a response to their religious sentiment.”
“This action offends the international community and re-exposes Turkey, which must respect both the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and UNESCO, of which it is a member,” the statement continued.
“We call once again on Turkey to respect its international obligations and to stop subordinating its highly honourable role in internal affairs as the custodian of such an important monument as Hagia Sophia, which belongs to all mankind,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement concluded.
On July 2, the Council of State of Turkey is expected to rule on the request to annul the presidential decree that turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934.