The Near East Council of Churches (NECC) described the decision of the Turkish State and of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to reconvert the ancient Christian Basilica Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a mosque, as an “attack on religious liberty,” reported the Vatican Agency Fides on July 13, 2020. The NECC recalled the firm position of the UN and of the Arab League on the subject, suggesting the filing of an appeal before the Turkish Supreme Court to have “the historic symbolism represented by the Hagia Sophia church” respected.
The Turkish State’s decision is a hard blow to all the initiatives of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, launched in the last decades, including the signing of the “Document of Human Fraternity” on February 4, 2019 in Abou Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of al Azhar.
The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans expressed his “sadness and grief” over Hagia Sophia’s fate. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako deplored the fact that the Turkish President didn’t take into consideration that his decision would be received with sadness by millions of Christians, forgetting the fraternal reception given by many Christians to Muslim immigrants arriving in Europe after dangerous voyages.
On July 10, in an address to the nation, President Erdogan announced that Hagia Sophia would be reopened for Muslim worship on July 24, stressing that the reconversion to a mosque of the monumental complex was “a sovereign right of Turkey.” The Turkish Council of State annulled the decree of November 24, 1934, of the President at that time, Mustafa Kemal, who transformed the ancient Byzantine Basilica of Hagia Sophia into a museum, which had become a mosque after the Ottomans’ conquest of Constantinople in 1453.