Hagia Sophia will open outside prayer time, says Turkey
Turkey’s Hagia Sophia could open to visitors outside prayer times and its Christian icons will remain, religious officials said on July 14, after a court ruling paved the way for it to become a mosque.
The sixth-century Istanbul landmark’s museum status -- in place since 1934 -- was revoked on July 10 and control was handed to the religious authority, Diyanet.
The decision sparked condemnation from Western governments, Russia and Christian leaders -- Pope Francis saying he was "very distressed".
Hagia Sophia spent almost 1,000 years as a cathedral before being converted into a mosque in 1453 and later a museum.
Diyanet said in a statement on July 14 that Christian icons in Hagia Sophia were "not an obstacle to the validity of the prayers".
"The icons should be curtained and shaded through appropriate means during prayer times," it said.
"There is no obstacle from a religious perspective to Hagia Sophia Mosque being open to visitors outside prayer times."
In 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recited a verse from Koran at the building.
Erdoğan, who said the first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia would begin on July 24, has insisted the building will be open to all, including non-Muslims.
Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said on July 14 that the Hagia Sophia mosque will be open to visitors of all religions, and anyone who wants to can visit this amazing building.
After a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday in Brussels, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in regards to Hagia Sophia that nobody can interfere with Turkey's sovereign rights.
Aksoy stressed that Hagia Sophia's status is an internal matter and is the property of Turkey.
"Hagia Sophia will continue to embrace everyone with its new status, preserving the common cultural heritage of humanity," he said.
Aksoy also emphasized that all parties are aware of Turkey's stance on the issue of the Eastern Mediterranean and the first step toward resolving the issue is to establish a cooperation mechanism for the fair sharing of hydrocarbon resources between the two peoples of the island of Cyprus.
He added that there should be a resumption of dialogue channels with Turkey and that the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean can only end through the adoption of such approaches by all parties.
Aksoy stressed that Turkey had always been emphasizing on how there would not be a military solution to the crisis in Libya and said Turkey has consistently supported and contributed to all international efforts to revive the political process led and embraced by Libyans.
He said if the EU wants to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis, it should favor international legitimacy in line with the relevant decisions of the U.N. Security Council.
However, Aksoy stated that they welcomed EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's dialogues and engagement on bilateral relations between Turkey and the EU.
Foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels on July 13 to discuss Turkey and international issues in an actual meeting for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All features of Hagia Sophia to be 'better preserved'
Meanwhile, Hagia Sophia will be "better preserved" following Turkey's decision to reconvert Istanbul’s iconic architectural gem into a mosque after decades as a museum, Turkey's ruling party spokesman said on July 13.
"All features of Hagia Sophia will be preserved. It will even be better preserved from now on," said Ömer Çelik, spokesman for AKP, after a board meeting of the party.
Also, UNESCO officials should know that Turkey is open to any cooperation to preserve Hagia Sophia's universal heritage, Çelik added.
"We do not think that Hagia Sophia will be removed from the UNESCO cultural heritage list," he said, adding that Hagia Sophia is not honored with that list, rather the list is honored with Hagia Sophia.
"Hagia Sophia will continue to show its glory to all of humanity as a great place that carries the magnificence of the mosque and the cultural heritage of the universal world," he stressed.