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Ionian Cultural Federation’s Letter to Trump on Aghia Sophia Status

Αssociated Press

An aerial view of the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, on Saturday, April 25, 2020, one of Istanbul s main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK – The Ionian Cultural Federation of America sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump concerning the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque.

The letter mentions the bonds of friendship and common values that the United States and Greece share, includes a brief history of Aghia Sophia and notes its designation as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pointing out that Christianity is under persecution, the Federation condemns Turkish President Erdogan's decision, calling it illegal, offensive to international law and regulations, while at the same time asking the U.S. President for his intervention.

The text of the letter, signed by Ionian Cultural Federation of America President Nikolaos Bardis, and the confirmation of receipt from the Office of the President of the United States follow.

Dear Mr. President,

The United States and all of Western civilization has been profoundly shaped by the extraordinary achievements of the Greek people, stretching all the way back to the ancient times. Greece is the birthplace of democracy and as Americans, we celebrate each year the friendship between our countries on Greek Independence Day. Our common histories are reflected in our shared values.

The Greek people have faced extraordinary challenges in recent years, yet they remain steadfast in their resilience and perseverance. Greek people are under attack, Christianity is under attack, the world cultural heritage is under attack, and all our values are under threat in the East Mediterranean region due to the Turkish provocations.

Last Friday, despite the international warnings, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the status conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque for the promotion of his domestic political agenda. Aghia Sophia, built by the Emperor Justinian I in 537, was once the largest and grandest churches in all of Christendom and remains at the spiritual heart of Orthodox Christianity. It was converted into a mosque in 1453, when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, with minarets placed around its perimeter, its Byzantine mosaics covered in whitewash. Aghia Sophia has been a museum since 1934, it is a monument of cultural heritage and a symbol of harmony and tranquility connecting the East and the West. Aghia Sophia is a cultural and religious monument recognized by the European Union and protected by UNESCO since 1985 as part of the world’s cultural heritage.

The decision of President Erdogan can only be perceived as a distancing of Turkey from the world values, a new violation of international treaties and a sad proof of lack of respect to the world’s heritage, international community and inter-religious dialogue.

The Ionian Cultural Federation strongly believes that this decision of turning Aghia Sophia into a mosque is disrespectful.

We request your help to protect Aghia Sophia’s ecumenical character and defend our common principles of tolerance and respect of international law and agreements.

Yours sincerely,

Nikolaos Bardis

President of Ionian Cultural Federation

Response from the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence:

July 17, 2020

Dear Mr. Bardis,

Thank you for contacting the White House. We are carefully reviewing your message.

President Donald J. Trump believes the strength of our country lies in the spirit of the American people and their willingness to stay informed and get involved. President Trump appreciates your taking the time to reach out.

For more information about the steps President Trump is taking to keep the American people safe, strengthen our Nation, and preserve liberty and prosperity, please click here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/.

Sincerely,

The Office of Presidential Correspondence