The Greek government has appealed to UNESCO to intervene after Muslim prayers were read at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on Wednesday, calling it an affront to the religious sentiments of Christians around the world.
In a meeting Thursday with UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin, Alternate Foreign Minister Yiannis Amanatidis said the prayers at Hagia Sofia, which were broadcast on television and attended by government officials, were insulting to Christians, and compromised the monument’s cultural significance.
Hagia Sofia was commissioned in the 6th century by the Roman emperor Justinian, and was one of Christendom’s great churches before it was converted into a mosque after Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It became a museum in 1935. But Greece says Turkish authorities have sought to convert it into a mosque and that events similar to the one on Wednesday have occurred since 2013.
Amanatidis said that Greece will ask all the national committees of UNESCO to call for the intervention of the World Heritage Committee to protect the monument. For his part, Bandarin said UNESCO has already told Turkey that the monument must remain a cultural monument, and that the organization will repeat the same message to Turkish authorities.
Earlier Thursday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the event.
“Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site. The attempt to convert it into a mosque – through reading of the Koran, holding of prayers, and a number of other actions – is an affront to the international community, which needs to be duly mobilized and to react,” it said.