“Without approval by the UNESCO, the status of world heritage monuments cannot be changed,” the world cultural organization said and took the wind out of the sails of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who keeps heralding that he will turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
“All decisions concerning the implementation of the World Heritage Conservation Convention shall be taken by the World Heritage Committee. When a Member State decides to change the name of a monument, it must submit these changes for approval to the Commission,” an UNESCO official told the Turkish language service of Russian news agency Sputnik.
Despite strong reactions from Athens and the Orthodox world, Erdogan reiterated on Tuesday, that he will convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia was the Orthodox Christian Patriarchal Cathedral from 537 AD until 1453 when the Byzantine Empire surrendered to Ottoman Turks. They turned it into a mosque and the monument retained this status until 1935, when the founder of Modern Turkey, secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned into a museum.
To Erdogan’s provocations, Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos commented that any questioning of status of Hagia Sophia is an insult not only to the feeling of the Christians but also to the international community as it is not only a great temple of Christianity but it also belongs to the whole world.
PS Not that Erdogan would care about the UNESCO directives, should he decide to proceed with his plan. But he should remember the price Turkey will pay in educational, scientific and cultural issues would be expelled from the world organization.