UN Calls on Turkey to Make Hagia Sophia an “Intercultural Space”

Officials from the United Nations addressed the Turkish government, urging them to have Hagia Sophia established as a landmark of interfaith dialogue in order to help preserve its identity.

UN human rights experts explained on Friday, July 31, that Turkey’s conversion of the significant World Heritage Site “could reflect a supremacist view of history and culture.”

In an officially released statement, UN Special Rapporteur Karima Bennoune, who works in the field of cultural rights, emphasized how “It would be an historic mistake at this difficult global moment to take actions which divide religious and cultural groups in Turkey and beyond, rather than uniting them.”

Just last Friday, the longtime tourist destination had hosted its first prayer service on July 24, following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s controversial decision to revert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after having been a museum for more than 80 years.

Many world leaders and politicians spoke out against the Turkish government’s decision, regarding it as an attempt on Erdogan’s part to try to revitalize political support for him.

In response to critics, the Turkish President himself argued that both the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia and the restoration of the Soumela monastery in Trabzon shows how “Turkey protects and beautifies all kinds of civilization heritages on its land.”

Erdogan further added, “If we were the kind of nation targeting the symbols of other faiths, as it is claimed or implied to be the case, this monastery, which has been ours for five centuries, would have already ceased to exist,” in a video conference on Tuesday, July 28.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed, also released a statement about the issue regarding the Hagia Sophia as well, saying how “As someone said, ‘The dome of the Hagia Sophia should be big enough to include everyone.'”

Experts at the United Nations also said how the use of a sword during the first prayer service concerned them, saying how it “could be construed as a symbol of conquest.”