ATHENS - After Russia first said it expected a "balanced" decision, Greece's New Democracy government is unhappy Moscow didn't denounce Turkey's conversion of the venerated ancient cathedral of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque.
With Greece and Russia both Orthodox countries, Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos a Russian spokesman's statement on Hagia Sophia saying the change would benefit tourists because the site would be free was “almost hostile,” and unacceptable.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a radio interview, said that the decision wouldn't harm relations with Russia and that it was an internal affair as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rejecting international criticism, had contended.
Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been a museum since 1934 when it was converted from a mosque by the founder of modern secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, serving as a Muslim religious site after being seized when Constantinope fell in 1453.
“There were rather expensive tickets to Hagia Sophia, but now there will be no tickets, admission will be free. In this regard, our tourists will win,” Peskov said.
Koumoutsakos, a former diplomat, said in a TV that the decision has ruined relations with Greece with tension already high over constant Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and often sending F-16 fighters into Greek airspace.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian reporters that, |We believe that the monument of Hagia Sophia is extremely important for all mankind in terms of culture and history.”
She added that, “We expect that any decision on the status of this unique monument will be of a balanced nature, taking into account how sensitive this issue is for the faithful,” before Peskov showed the Russian government backing off.
Turkey's high court wouldn't rule on the move saying it was Erdogan's decision to make after he already said he would do it, indicating he's the law in Turkey.