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US Joins Greece Pushing Turkey to Keep Aghia Sophia Museum Status

Αssociated Press

A view of a wall set in front of Istanbul s 6th-century Hagia Sophia, the main cathedral of the Byzantine Empire which was converted into a mosque with the Ottoman conquest of the city, then known as Constantinople, in 1453, that was to be used as a set for the celebrations to mark the 567th anniversary of the conquest in Istanbul, Friday, May 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

WASHINGTON --The United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback jumped in to join Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni in urging Turkey not to make the revered ancient Orthodox Church Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque.

“The Aghia Sophia holds enormous spiritual & cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world,” Brownback said, reported Kathimerini.

“We call on the Govt of Turkey to maintain it as a UNESCO World Heritage site & to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum,” the ambassador added.

That followed a letter that Mendoni sent to representatives of the  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) member-states informing them of Turkey’s plans to turn the monument into a mosque even though it has been a museum since the 1934.

It had become a mosque after Constantinople, which the rest of the world except Greece calls Istanbul, fell in 1453 but was designated a museum by the founder of modern secular Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“Aghgia Sophia must not be allowed to be divested of its universal character and turned into a Muslim place of worship,” Mendoni wrote, the paper said, as she said the 6th Century monument was bequeathed to humanity in 1934 when Ataturk, passed a decree converting it into a museum.

“What the Turkish government and President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan are attempting to do today revives and reignites fanatical nationalist and religious sentiment. It is an attempt to reduce the monument’s value and international radiance,” warned Mendoni.

She accused the Turkish government of exploiting the site for political expediency and of bringing the 15th Century into the 21st Century, as Erdogan has been cranking up the heat on Greece with violations of Greek airspace and waters by fighters jets and warships and planning to drill for energy off Crete.

Mendoni added reconverting Aghia Sophia into a mosque would also require the approval of UNESCO, which listed the site as a monument of world heritage in 1985. Turkey, she said, signed the UNESCO Convention in 1972 and would be in violation of the agreement by making such a move without approval although Erdogan has violated other treaties he doesn’t recognize but then invoking to them to Turkey’s advantage when needed.