The Namal

Turkey’s Hagia Sophia declared a mosque after court ruling

Istanbul: President Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia a mosque on Friday with the first Muslim prayers to begin in two weeks, after a top court ruled the ancient building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

Erdogan spoke on Friday just hours after the court ruling was published, brushing aside international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument that is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.

The United States, Russia and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

Greece’s culture ministry described the court decision as an “open provocation” to the civilized world, while UNESCO said it regretted it was not notified ahead of time and would now review the building’s status.

The U.S. State Department, which had urged Turkey to maintain the building as a museum, said in a statement it was “disappointed” by the decision but looked forward to hearing the plans “to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”

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