Erdogan says first prayers in Hagia Sophia on July 24; EU calls mosque decision 'regrettable'
The Turkish President said the nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners, but added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque.
The first prayers will be held in Turkey's Hagia Sophia on July 24, President Tayyip Erdogan has said, after declaring the ancient monument a mosque following a court ruling revoking its status as a museum.
Erdogan said the nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners, but added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticism of the move as an attack on its independence.
The European Union has slammed Erdogan's move. "The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey's landmark decisions and President Erdogan's decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency is regrettable," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in a statement "called on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session".
Reacting to the mosque decision, US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said: "We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia... We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all."
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it a choice "which offends all those who also recognise the monument as a World Heritage Site. And of course it does not only affect relations between Turkey and Greece, but its relations with the European Union".
Russian Orthodox Church official Vladimir Legoida said: "It is a real shame that the concerns of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox churches were not heard. This decision, alas, is not aimed at reconciling existing differences, but on the contrary, may lead to even greater divisions."
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said: "It is a historical appropriation and desecration of a World Heritage monument of particular value to the world's Christians."