The Greek Orthodox Church of the United States petitioned the United Nations on Tuesday to force Turkey into protecting Orthodox Christianity’s cultural heritage following the Turkish government’s unilateral decision to convert Istanbul’s landmark former cathedral Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said it was pressing the U.N. over areas of cultural rights, minority rights, freedom of religion and beliefs to hold Turkey accountable “for its deliberate policies to erase the cultural heritage of Orthodox Christians.”
When the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, the victors converted the building into a mosque, which it remained until the founding of the Republic of Turkey in the early 20th century. The Hagia Sophia functioned as a secular museum until late July when Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced without consultation it would henceforth be an Islamic center.
“Reverting Hagia Sophia to its original form as a mosque was a dream of my youth,” Erdogan said in triumph at the time, failing to note the building’s “original form” was actually as a cathedral.
JUST IN: Erdogan visits the tomb of Mehmed II, the conqueror of Istanbul after joining the first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia.
“Reverting Hagia Sophia to its original mosque form was my youth dream” he says pic.twitter.com/1gORz0tH9a
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) July 24, 2020
Now the fight back to challenge Erdogan’s move has begun with Greece determined to ensure the structure, a UNESCO world heritage site which served as one of Christendom’s most important cathedrals for centuries, is respected.
“By unilaterally changing the status, structure and name of these UNESCO sites, with particular significance to Orthodox Christians, Turkey is in violation of its obligations under international law to preserve cultural heritage and to respect the political, cultural and religious freedoms of Orthodox Christians in Turkey and abroad,” Archdiocese of America counsel Christina Hioureas told the Associated Press in an emailed statement.
The Greek Orthodox archdiocese “hopes that international pressure from the United Nations, its bodies – including UNESCO, and its member states will motivate Turkey to reverse its decision to convert (the world heritage sites) into mosques.”
The church’s call is just one of many to condemn Turkey and its categorical denial of Christian history.
The ancient cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – the former seat of eastern Christianity – could now be dedicated to use as a mosque after Turkey’s high court on Friday ruled its conversion into a museum in 1934 was unlawful. https://t.co/52QCqiQIw8
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) July 10, 2020
There was no immediate comment from the Turkish government or Erdogan himself, a pious Muslim whose ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement.
AP contributed to this story