06 July 2020, 10:20
Russian Orthodox Church calls Hagia Sophia's transformation into mosque inadmissible
Moscow, July 6, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church has spoken against transformation of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul, which currently has the museum status, into a mosque.
"There must be no return to the Medieval Period. We live in a multipolar world, a multi-confessional world, and feelings of believers must be respected," head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion said in the Church and the World program of the television channel Rossiya 24.
He admitted that modern Turkey had a predominantly Muslim population but said "there is no deficit of mosques" in Istanbul, for instance, the Blue Mosque near Hagia Sophia is a functioning one.
"We do not understand why exactly the Hagia Sophia Cathedral has to be transformed into a mosque now. I mean we understand that this is caused by the domestic political situation in Turkey and the Turkish president siding with those who call for transforming the cathedral into a mosque, but we believe that, under the current circumstances, that step will be an inadmissible violation of the freedom of worship," the metropolitan said.
No matter what many Turkish officials say, the status of Hagia Sophia is not just an internal affair of Turkey, the metropolitan said. "This monument has an ecumenical and global significance, this is a world cultural monument, and we are deeply aggrieved by what is happening around this Christian cathedral," he said.
The debate on the future of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was given a boost by the Koran reading in the church on May 29, an anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. A week later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered that the possibility of transforming Hagia Sophia into a mosque be studied. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul called for reinstating the cathedral as a mosque, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu supported the call. In turn, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahag II suggested that both Christians and Muslims come to Hagia Sophia to pray. Representatives of Orthodox churches and high-ranking diplomats, among them U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, have called against Hagia Sophia's transformation into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia became a museum in 1934 on the orders from First Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The cathedral was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. The Turkish Supreme Court decided on Thursday that the cathedral's status could be reviewed by a presidential order. The Turkish Council of State discussed the issue on the same day and pledged to present its opinion within the next 15 days.