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Orthodox church petitions UN over Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia

The Greek Orthodox Church of the United States says it is petitioning United Nations experts to coerce Turkey into protecting Orthodox Christianity’s cultural heritage following the Turkish government’s conversion of Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America says it was pressing UN special rapporteurs in the areas of cultural rights, minority rights, freedom of religion and beliefs to hold Turkey accountable “for its deliberate policies to erase the cultural heritage of Orthodox Christians.”

In a move that drew praise from the Muslim faithful and widespread international opposition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree in July that turned Hagia Sophia back into a Muslim house of prayer. The structure, a UNESCO world heritage site, had served as one of Christendom most important cathedrals and a mosque for centuries, as well as a museum for 86 years.

Men take part in the Friday prayer on July 24, 2020 outside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the first muslim prayer held at the landmark since it was reconverted to a mosque despite international condemnation (OZAN KOSE / AFP)

Erdogan announced a decision last month to transform the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, another Byzantine-era church in Istanbul, into a mosque as well.

“By unilaterally changing the status, structure and name of these UNESCO sites, with particular significance to Orthodox Christians, Turkey is in violation of its obligations under international law to preserve cultural heritage and to respect the political, cultural and religious freedoms of Orthodox Christians in Turkey and abroad,” Archdiocese of America counsel Christina Hioureas tells the Associated Press in an emailed statement.

The Greek Orthodox archdiocese “hopes that international pressure from the United Nations, its bodies — including UNESCO — and its member states will motivate Turkey to reverse its decision to convert [the world heritage sites] into mosques.”

— AFP

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