World Council of Churches expresses dismay over Hagia Sophia

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the debate over Hagia Sophia to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party. The decision has provoked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.

11 July 2020 | 20:26

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 11 July 2020 | 20:26

Muslims offer their evening prayers outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, following Turkey's Council of State's decision, Friday, July 10, 2020. (AP Photo).

FRANKFURT: The interim secretary general of the World Council of Churches has written to Turkey’s president expressing his “grief and dismay” over Turkey’s decision to change the status of Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.

As a World Heritage museum, “Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations,” Ioan Sauca said in the letter released Saturday by the Geneva-based group.

The colossal Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453. The secular Turkish government decided in 1934 to make it a museum.

Sauca said the museum status had been “a powerful expression” of Turkey’s commitment to inclusion and secularism.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday formally converted the building back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled the 1934 decision turning it into a museum.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the debate over Hagia Sophia to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party. The decision has provoked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.

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