In a stern message on Tuesday, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios said any conversion of the former Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians around the world against Islam” and expressed hope that “wisdom and reason ultimately prevail.”
The statement by the patriarch, who is the spiritual leader of the the world’s Orthodox Christians, was made ahead of Thursday's decision by Turkey’s Supreme Court on the issue of the 6th-century monument and a UNESO World Heritage site, which is currently a museum.
It is widely believed that the court will indeed issue a recommendation in favor of its conversion, in line with the intentions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader has been a vocal proponent of the conversion and also took part in the May 29 celebrations on the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the capital of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, with the reading of Islamic prayers inside the Hagia Sophia.
Speaking to a congregation at a church in Istanbul Tuesday morning, Vartholomaios also called on the people of Turkey to champion the monument’s universal character, underlining that as a museum, Hagia Sophia brings together people and cultures from all over the world.
The Erdogan government’s intentions are also being discussed in Western capitals and have been the subject of public debate. In recent days the issue made it on to the front pages of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and France’s Le Monde.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Turkish fighter jets conducted unauthorized flights over the eastern Aegean islands of Agathonisi and Framakonisi, a day after a visit to the area by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.