Administration

State Dept. says US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey’s move to turn Hagia Sophia back into mosque

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The State Department said Friday it is “disappointed” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Hagia Sophia, an Istanbul landmark, back into a mosque. 

“We are disappointed by the decision by the Government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia. This building is an important part of the ‘Historic Sites of Istanbul’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its rich multicultural history,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

“We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.” 

The rebuke comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday that he would turn the building back into a mosque, fulfilling a longtime promise of his.

The famous landmark, built as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire, stood as a place of worship for Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims for centuries before to being turn into a secular museum in the 1930s.

Erdoğan’s announcement drew fierce pushback from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who called the move a “deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”

“We strongly denounce President Erdoğan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque. At points in its history, Hagia Sophia served as a place of worship for Muslims and Christians, and for decades has been an extraordinary and welcoming center to people of all faiths,” they said in a joint statement. 

Erdoğan made the announcement after Turkey’s top court ruled that the building could be converted into an operational mosque. The Turkish president said the building will be open for prayers on July 24.

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