ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected criticism over converting Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia landmark into a mosque.
“Charges against our country over Hagia Sophia are a direct attack on our right to sovereignty,” Erdogan said. Turkey’s highest administrative court is considering whether the site can be redesignated as a mosque.
The Council of State convened on Thursday to evaluate the case brought by an association to change the museum’s status. The court, known as Danistay in Turkish, must announce its decision within 15 days.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Erdogan not to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and said Istanbul’s celebrated former cathedral should remain open to all.
“We urge the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo said.
“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability — so rare in the modern world — to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo said that the United States hoped to maintain dialogue with Turkey over the preservation of religious and cultural sites.
Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire in the sixth century but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It was transformed into a museum under the modern republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The move to convert it again as a mosque have led to led tensions with neigbouring Greece which closely monitors Byzantine heritage in Turkey. Erdogan said last year it had been a “very big mistake” to convert the Hagia Sophia into a museum.
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