US State Department urges Turkey to respect historic significance of Hagia Sofia


The State Department has reportedly called on Turkey to respect the multifaceted history of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

Asked at a press briefing on Friday to comment on the intention of Turkey to convert the monument into a mosque, the State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, according to Greek media reports, that the Hagia Sofia is of historic importance and urged Ankara to respect its multifaceted history as it is significant to many religions.

Meanwhile, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos expressed his indignation on Friday saying that Turkey cannot have European aspirations if it fails to respect monuments like the Hagia Sofia.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis sent a letter on Friday to the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, to report what he described as “provocative and unacceptable incidents.” He accused Turkey of a lack of respect, as it not only allowed the prayers to be held at Hagia Sofia, but it also encouraged it. 

In a meeting on 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.

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.

Turkey, however, shot back on Friday accusing Greece of violating religious freedoms and of hampering the rights of Greece’s muslims to worship.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry cited the non-existence of a mosque in Athens and urged Greece to become a modern and democratic country that respects all religions.

Haia 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.