An official with the US State Department has reiterated Washington’s belief in the protection of the “complex multi-religious history” of Hagia Sophia, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul and former Greek Orthodox patriarchal cathedral.
“Our position has not changed, we continue to view Hagia Sophia as a site of extraordinary significance and support its preservation in a manner that respects its complex multireligious history,” an unnamed US State Department official told Greek reporters in Washington on Thursday, according to the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
The statement came a few days after a report indicating that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had ordered members of his cabinet to explore the possibility of turning Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.
It also came a day after the publication of the State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom.
In the chapter on Turkey, US officials chided Erdogan’s government for continuing to “limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews and Greek Orthodox Christians.
“Senior US government officials continued to publicly, and privately with government officials, express their understanding of the Hagia Sophia as a site of extraordinary significance, and to support its preservation in a manner that respects its complex multireligious history. They underscored the importance of the issue with government officials and emphasized that the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of peaceful coexistence, meaningful dialogue, and respect among religions,” the report added.
The issue of the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki was also mentioned in the report, which said that the US government supports its reopening so that “all religious communities [can] train clergy in the country.”