The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Thursday that it should be informed of any change in the status of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, which dates back to the sixth century, and its World Heritage Committee may have to review these changes.
Two Turkish officials said that Turkey’s highest administrative court is likely to announce on Friday that the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a museum in 1934 was illegal, paving the way for him to be returned as a mosque.
According to UNESCO, the Hagia Sophia is on its list of World Heritage sites as a museum, and as such it has certain legal obligations and undertakings.
The organization stated: “Therefore, the state must ensure that no amendment is made that would undermine the outstanding global value of a listed site, on its territory.”
She added that “any amendment should notify the state of UNESCO and review it if necessary the World Heritage Committee.”
UNESCO indicated that it expressed its concerns to the Turkish authorities in several messages, and the message was conveyed to the Turkish Ambassador to the organization on Thursday.
The international organization urged “the Turkish authorities to start a dialogue before taking any decision that could undermine the global value of the site.”
The site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List has enjoyed great interest in both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and is today one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
The prospect of changing the museum’s status back to a mosque has caused concern among American, French, Russian and Greek officials, as well as Christian church leaders.
Washington is worried about turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque
Many Turks are holding their breath pending the decision of the country’s highest administrative court, regarding a request by an Islamic association to repeal the presidential decree that transformed the Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum in 1934.
And one of the “Revival of Islamic Heritage” societies is calling for opening the doors of Hagia Sophia for Muslims to pray in it.
The Turkish street is divided on this old dialectical issue, as a citizen told Sky News Arabia that she prefers that the Hagia Sophia remains a museum, explaining her decision that “attracts tourists and supports the economy.”
For his part, another citizen saw that the Hagia Sophia is “the symbol of the conquest of Istanbul and the symbol of all Turks … We demand that it be made a mosque for prayer.”
As soon as the Turkish President and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced his position in support of the idea of converting the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, most of the opposition party leaders attacked, led by yesterday’s ally, today’s opponent, Ahmet Davutoglu and Ali Babacan.
“Those who hold power are treating our sacred symbols as a way out of their cheap problems,” said Ahmed Davutoglu, leader of the Future Party.
He added: “Recently we noticed clearly how they use a historical place in their political propaganda … Erdogan uses this holy place whenever he feels his popularity has declined.”
The Hagia Sophia was a cathedral for Orthodox Christians for 900 years, and around it Muhammad al-Fatih turned it into a mosque when it opened Constantinople, and it remained so for about 5 centuries, then it became a museum in 1934, by decision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Whatever the expected administrative court decision, the Hagia Sophia will remain a subject of internal Turkish controversy, and a source of further tension between Turkey and the European Union countries, in particular Greece, which considers itself the heir to the Byzantine Empire.
Source : Skeynews