First prayers in Hagia Sophia to be held on July 24, Turkish President Erdogan says

WION Web Team
Istanbul, Turkey Updated: Jul 11, 2020, 11:25 AM(IST)

Hagia Sophia Photograph:( Reuters )

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Erdogan said the nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners, but added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticism of the move as an attack on its independence. 

The first prayers in Turkey's Hagia Sophia will be held on July 24, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, after declaring the ancient monument was once again a mosque following a court ruling revoking its status as a museum.

Erdogan said the nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners, but added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticism of the move as an attack on its independence. 

The top court had ruled the ancient building's conversion to a museum by modern Turkey's founding statesman was illegal.

The United States, Russia and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

Also read | Top Turkey court revokes Hagia Sophia's museum status, paving way for mosque

Greece's culture ministry described the court decision as an "open provocation" to the civilised world, while UNESCO said it regretted it was not notified ahead of time and would now review the building's status.

Erdogan has sought to shift Islam into the mainstream of Turkish politics in his 17 years at the helm. He has long floated restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century building, which was converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The US State Department, which had urged Turkey to maintain the building as a museum, said in a statement it was "disappointed" by the decision but looked forward to hearing the plans "to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all."

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