Turkey will inform UNESCO about Hagia Sophia changes, says Cavusoglu

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Turkey will inform the United Nation’s cultural body UNESCO about changes to Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia after Ankara converted the museum back into a mosque, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.

On Friday, a Turkish court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum in 1934 was unlawful and President Tayyip Erdogan, declaring it a mosque, said the first prayers would be held there within two weeks.

UNESCO said on Friday it would review the status of the monument as a World Heritage Site following Erdogan’s enouncement.

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Cavusoglu said Ankara was surprised by UNESCO’s reaction and would let it know of further steps that will be taken regarding Hagia Sophia, which was a Byzantine church for nine centuries before the Ottomans converted it to a mosque.

Turkey is sensitive about protecting its historical character, he said. “We have to protect our ancestors’ heritage. The function can be this way or that way -- it does not matter,” Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.

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Asked about criticism and expressions of concern from Greece, Pope Francis and others, Cavusoglu said the decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque was lawful.

“We respect everyone’s view even if we don’t agree with it but we strongly reject comments made in a way that infringes on Turkey’s sovereign rights,” he said.

Greece condemned the decision on Friday, saying it would have repercussions not only on relations between the two countries, but on Turkey’s ties with the European Union. Pope Francis said on Sunday he was hurt by the decision.

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