Date: July 10, 2020
Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom decries thedecision of Turkey’s Council of State (Danıştay), the country’s highest administrative court, to permit the conversion of the historic Hagia Sophia from its current status as a museum back into a mosque.
USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said, “USCIRF condemns the unequivocal politicization of the Hagia Sophia, an architectural wonder that has for so long stood as a cherished testament to a complex history and rich diversity. Both Christians and Muslims alike ascribe great cultural and spiritual importance to the Hagia Sophia, whose universal value to humankind was reaffirmed with its inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 1985.”
Built in the sixth century, the Hagia Sophia served as a Greek Orthodox cathedral for nearly 1,000 years before Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II converted it into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It became a museum in 1935, following the founding of the Republic of Turkey.
“It is regrettable that the Turkish government has proceeded with these steps, and with such disregard for the feelings of its own religious minority communities,” USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel added. “This decision comes at a time of increased fear and insecurity due to recent attacks on churches and other threats against religious and ethnic minorities and will only add to their sense of marginalization under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.”
Turkey on its Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations.