The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America announced this week that it will petition United Nations officials in response to unilateral Turkey’s decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque.
The archdiocese said on Tuesday that the decision to re-convert the iconic 6th Century church from museum to a mosque was a reflection of Turkey’s “deliberate policies to erase the cultural heritage of Orthodox Christians.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said: “Turkey’s reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a radical misappropriation of the Orthodox Christian cultural heritage and living Christian communities in Turkey. The treatment and change in status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a concern for the international community as a whole.”
The archdiocese said it in its statement that “for the previous 86 years, the Hagia Sophia had been designated as a secular museum at the cultural junction of East and West. In 1985, Hagia Sophia was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recognized the Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum as worthy of protection and preservation under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.”
“The Hagia Sophia was built 15-hundred years ago to be the cathedral and first church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said.
“Today, with a heavy heart, we behold the historic and indeed essential Greek Orthodox Christian cultural heritage of Turkey being misappropriated, with the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque,” he told the AP. “To do so is to start down a path toward denial of history, a path that denies the future as well.”
READ MORE: The cost of staying silent on Hagia Sophia
UNESCO said in a separate statement that it was concerned about the change in status of the iconic building and it called on Turkish authorities to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage
“States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of any such modifications, which, if necessary, are then examined by the World Heritage Committee,” the statement read.
The World Heritage Committee will examine Turkey’s unilateral decision to convert the building into a mosque at its next session.