Turning Hagia Sophia into Mosque Requires UNESCO’s Approval, Officials Say

Hagia Sophia was built in the year 537 AD. It was turned into a mosque the day Constantinople was captured by the Ottomans, on May 29, 1453. Photo by Wikipedia

Greek media, citing sources from UNESCO on Wednesday morning, reported that the Paris-based organization has tried to halt Erdogan’s plans to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine Christian Cathedral until Constantinople’s fall in 1453, is now a museum and is a protected cultural site by UNESCO.

Recently, Turkish President Regep Tayyip Erdogan said that he will consider changing its status, in order to make it a Muslim mosque again, 84 years after its official conversion into a museum.

”This is not a strange proposal,”  Erdogan was quoted as saying by the Daily Sabah newspaper, referring to the calls to convert the historical building into a Muslim temple.

”As you know, the mosque was converted to a museum in 1935, as a reflection of the (Turkish Republican People’s Party) CHP mentality. We may as well take a step and change that,” the Turkish President concluded, pointing to the harshly secularist policies of the 1930s CHP, which is the main opposition party today.

Greece reacted to Erdogan’s provocative remarks with an official statement made by the country’s foreign minister, Georgios Katrougalos.

Katrougalos said on Tuesday that Hagia Sophia ”is not only a great temple of Christendom — the largest for many centuries — it also belongs to humanity. It has been recognized by UNESCO as part of our global cultural heritage.”

Turkey will be holding local elections on March 31, and many believe that Erdogan’s provocative rhetoric is mainly due to his effort to please his ultra-conservative Muslim electoral base, which would love to see Hagia Sophia turned back into a mosque.