Russian Orthodox Church says ‘unacceptable’ to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque: Ifax

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Converting the Istanbul Hagia Sophia monument from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable,” a senior Russian Orthodox Church official said Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was a Byzantine cathedral before it became a mosque that is currently a museum, is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 28, 2020. REUTERS / Murad Sezer / File Photo

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan proposed restoring the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Mosque, a 6th-century building in the heart of the Byzantine Christian and Muslim empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

“We cannot go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the foreign affairs department of the Moscow Patriarchate church, said on state television, Interfax news agency reported.

“We live in a multi-polar world, we live in a multi-faith world, and we must respect the feelings of believers.”

He said that the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the reason for Hagia Sophia’s conversion and that it believed that internal politics was behind the measure.

“We believe that under current conditions, this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” he said.

A Turkish court earlier this week heard a case aimed at turning the building back into a mosque and will announce its verdict later this month.

The court case, brought by an NGO to preserve historical monuments, questions the legality of a decision in 1934, in the early days of the modern Turkish secular state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to convert Hagia Sophia, known in Turkish as Ayasofya, from a Mosque in a museum.

The proposal has been criticized by other religious and political leaders.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual chief of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said that turning it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and “fracture” East and West.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also urged Turkey to keep the building as a museum.

Erdogan described foreign criticism of the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.

Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber’s Report; additional reports from Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; editing by Clelia Oziel

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