Turkey says UNESCO's remarks on Hagia Sophia Mosque 'biased'
The functional usage of the Hagia Sophia and the Chora are solely related to Turkey’s sovereign rights, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said on July 24, noting that since the Hagia Sophi, opened to worship one year ago, was registered in its Foundation Deed as a mosque, it’s functioning accordingly is only an act of restitution and exercising sovereignty rights.
Turkey is “astonished” by the decision adopted during the Extended 44th Session of the World Heritage Committee, which includes expressions that “contradict” with the Advisory Mission reports and the factual situation in these monuments, said the spokesperson in a written statement.
The Grand Mosque of Hagia Sophia and the Chora Mosque, the components of the World Heritage Site “Historic Areas of Istanbul,” have been converted to mosques upon the decisions of the Turkish Council of State following a legal process and they are the properties of Turkey that are “meticulously conserved in terms of historical, cultural and spiritual value,” said the spokesperson.
From the very outset of the restitution process, Turkey has been in “open and uninterrupted” communication and cooperation with the UNESCO World Heritage Center, and the two visits of UNESCO Advisory Mission to Istanbul upon Turkey’s invitation clearly manifest the country’s “constructive and transparent approach which is also reflected in the Advisory Mission reports,” said the spokesperson.
The ongoing restoration programs and other implementations in both monuments have no negative impact as per to UNESCO standards, on the contrary they aim at protecting the authenticity and the integrity of the property as corroborated by the UNESCO missions of 2019, 2020 and 2021, he emphasized.
Turkey disassociates itself from the relevant articles of the World Heritage Committee decision on the “Historic Areas of Istanbul” based on “biased, unfair wording prepared with political intentions, which is incompatible with the implementations, the factual situation and the Advisory Mission reports,” he said and noted that a statement in this regard was made by the Turkish delegation during the session to be reflected in the Summary Records of the meeting.
The spokesperson emphasized that fully aware of its rights, prerogatives and responsibilities towards its properties on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Turkey will continue its diligent and rigorous efforts to preserve its sites within the framework of its commitments to the 1972 World Heritage Convention as a State Party since 1983.
The UNESCO on July 23 expressed “grave concern” over the fate of Istanbul’s most famous temple. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO meeting in China for its annual session asked Turkey to provide “an updated report on the state of conservation” of the Hagia Sophia. The UNESCO committee said it “deeply regrets the lack of dialogue and information” on the changes and asked Turkey to engage in better international communication about its plans for these sites.
Erdoğan marks anniversary of Hagia Sophia opening
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on July 24 marked the first anniversary of the reopening of Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia Mosque.
In a Twitter post, Erdoğan said the Hagia Sophia “is the symbol of the revival of our civilization.”
“Praise be to our Lord, who showed us these days ... I hope that the voices of the call to prayers, salawats [prayers] and Holy Quran will not go missing from the domes of this great shrine until the end of time,” he added.
He also posted a video showing the first Friday prayer in the Hagia Sophia Mosque for the first time after an 86-year hiatus.
After more than eight decades as a museum, Turkey’s iconic Hagia Sophia reopened for Islamic worship for the first time last year, with Friday prayers with the participation of thousands of people.
The Hagia Sophia served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul, and a mosque from 1453 to 1934, nearly half a millennium.
Following the decision to reopen the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, Erdoğan, on Aug. 21, 2020, issued a decree to open Chora, an Orthodox church that was previously a popular Istanbul museum, to Muslim worship.