Russian Foreign Ministry calls upon Turkey to respect its commitments on the safety of Hagia Sophia

12.07.2020, Moscow.

Turkey must respect its commitments on the safety and accessibility of Hagia Sophia, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko said on July 11 in an interview to Interfax.

The diplomat noted that the cathedral, located on Turkish territory, is the cultural heritage of mankind. The Deputy Minister expressed his regret over Turkish authorities’ decision to open a mosque within the walls of the historical monument.

“We really hope that all the commitments related to cathedral’s status, management, safety and accessibility will be fully respected,” said Grushko.

He reminded that in 1985 Hagia Sophia was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The cathedral has historical, spiritual and interconfessional importance.

On July 10, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan said that a mosque in Hagia Sophia will be open from July 25 after preparatory work.


Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul) was built in 537 AD by Christian emperor Justinian I. This cathedral was the greatest church in Christendom for more than a millennium.  After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople under sultan Mehmed II on May 29, 1453, the cathedral was converted to a mosque.

In 1934 the cathedral became a museum by the decree of Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish modern state. In 1985 the building was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Since 2010 there have been more and more appeals to turn the museum into a mosque. In 2018 Turkish President Recep Erdoğan red a verse of the Koran in the museum, in 2019 he supported the idea of conversion.

On May 29, 2020, while celebrating the 567th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople, in Hagia Sophia Erdoğan recited a verse of the Koran about conquest. A historical show with decorations took place in that day in front of the cathedral. Greece then said that this action offends the international community and defies Christians’ religious feelings all over the world. In respond to this, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called upon Greece to get rid of its historical complex. On May 31, Erdoğan explained that Turkey posseses the cathedral by the right of conqueror.

The Turkish Council of State set July 2 for a formal review of the cancellation of Atatürk’s decree. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that cathedral’s status is the question of Turkish national sovereignty and that Turkey’s rights on the cathedral stem from the fact that Ayasofya had become Ottomans’ property.

The plans of conversion were condemned by some countries, in particular it was pointed out that the status of a world heritage site can not be changed without agreement with UNESCO. It was also said that changing the status would provoke a religious strife between Christians and Muslims. On June 30, Byzantium and Ottoman culture researchers signed an open letter to justify concerns on the safety of the cathedral after the change of its status.

The Council’s decision was announced in two stages. On July 2, it was declared that Atatürk’s decree is legal, but can be cancelled by the government. However, it was reported that a final decision would be pronounced later. On July 10, it became known that the 1934 decree is cancelled and the cathedral can be used only as a mosque.

Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency

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