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Politics

US Advises Turkey Not to Turn Hagia Sophia Into Mosque

WASHINGTON — In its annual International Religious Freedom Report, the US State Department – very gingerly –  suggested that Turkey should not change the revered ancient Orthodox Church Hagia Sophia Church in Constantinople into a mosque.

In diplomatic language, the report continued to publicly and privately express to Turkish officials that the former cathedral in the rest of the world apart from Greece calls Istanbul, is a monument of exceptional significance that must be preserved in a way that respects its religious history, said Kathimerini.

The report also said the officials stressed that Hagia Sophia is a symbol of peaceful coexistence, real dialogue and of respect between religions even though it was seized by force along with the rest of the city in 1453.

Tayyip Erdogan and other high-ranking Turkish officials have repeatedly expressed the view that the 6th Century monument, currently a museum, must be converted to a mosque and directed a study on how to change the status.

The Byzantine-era Greek Patriarchal cathedral was turned into a mosque after Constantinople fell to Turkish invaders and became a museum in 1935 but Erdogan is keen on making it a mosque again.

“Hagia Sophia can continue to be visited by tourists as a mosque, as is Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque.) Our nation should decide on this,” Erdogan was quoted by Turkey’s Hurriyet telling officials of his AKP party’s central executive board.

“Do a study for Hagia Sophia, let’s evaluate and talk,” he reportedly told officials, warning them to “be very sensitive” about the issue without clarifying what that meant although his intentions are long well known.

On May 29, Imams recited verses of the Koran inside the cathedral to mark the anniversary of the conquest of the city. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, drawing about three million visitors annually.

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