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

WION Web Team
Istanbul, Turkey Published: Jul 10, 2020, 06:39 PM(IST)

People visit the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was a Byzantine cathedral before it was converted into a mosque and currently a museum, in Istanbul, Turkey Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has in the past repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque, signed a presidential decree on Friday, handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey's religious affairs directorate for reopening to Muslim worship. 

A top Turkish court on Friday revoked the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque, according to reports.

The Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish NGO, cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and ruled the UNESCO World Heritage site would be reopened to Muslim worshipping.

Also read: UNESCO warns Turkey against Hagia Sophia mosque conversion

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has in the past repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque, signed a presidential decree on Friday, handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey's religious affairs directorate for reopening to Muslim worship. 

Erdogan's statement comes shortly after the Turkish court revoked Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque.

Also read: Erdogan's bid to turn Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque sparks political row

The UN's cultural agency UNESCO Friday said it deeply regretted Turkey's decision to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum into a mosque, lamenting there had been no prior dialogue on the status of the former Byzantine cathedral.

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay "deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, taken without prior dialogue, to modify the status of the Hagia Sophia," the UN agency said in a statement, adding that she had expressed her concern to the Turkish ambassador to the body.

The Hagia Sophia, which was first a cathedral then a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul, is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of an area designated as "Historic Areas of Istanbul."

Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.Turning it into a museum was a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the modern republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The World Heritage site was at the centre of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and is today one of Turkey's most visited monuments.

The prospect of a change in the museum's status back to a mosque had raised alarm among US, French, Russian and Greek officials, as well as Christian church leaders.

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