Senators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezVOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads MORE (D-N.J.) on Friday slammed the decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to turn the Hagia Sophia, an Istanbul landmark, back into a mosque.

The iconic building, which was built as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire, had served as a place of worship for Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims prior to being converted into a secular museum in the 1930s.

Erdoğan on Friday announced he would follow through on his promise to turn the UNESCO World Heritage Site back into an operational mosque, drawing a swift, bipartisan rebuke from Risch and Menendez.

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“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.

The lawmakers called Erdoğan’s move “a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”

Risch and Menendez noted that Turkish policy has maintained the famous building as a museum for more than 75 years.

“This conversion of its status is unnecessarily divisive at a time when we need more, not fewer, efforts to build bridges between Islam and Christianity,” they said.

The senators said they “strongly urge” Erdoğan to reverse his decision and retain Hagia Sophia’s “status as a religiously neutral museum for peoples of all faiths and cultures to visit and celebrate our common world heritage.”

Erdoğan announced the change after a top court in Turkey ruled that the building could be restored to an operational mosque.

The Turkish president says it will be open for prayers on July 24.