Russia says Turkey’s decision to turn the UNESCO World Heritage site Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque is an “internal affair” of the Anatolian country.
The iconic site, now officially known as the Great Mosque of Ayasofya, was constructed in the 6th century AD as a cathedral, during the Byzantine Empire, but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
According to Press TV, in 1934, Turkey’s cabinet declared it a museum. However, on Friday, Turkey’s Council of State, which is the highest administrative court in the country, annulled the 1934 decision, saying the move had been unlawful.
The court ruling has drawn criticism.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that henceforth the monument would serve as a mosque again and that it would be handed over to Turkey's religious affairs directorate and reopened for Muslim worshiping.
He also noted that the first prayers would be held there within two weeks.
On Monday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said in a press conference that a decision on Hagia Sophia’s status was within Turkey’s domestic affairs.
“We proceed from the fact that this is a Turkish internal affair in which neither us nor others should interfere,” he said. Vershinin, nonetheless, highlighted the importance of Hagia Sophia for “world culture and civilization.”
The Russian Orthodox Church on Friday expressed dismay at Turkey’s move, saying “the concerns of millions of Christians were not heard.”
Separately on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara would inform UNESCO about changes in the statues of Hagia Sophia.
The UN’s cultural body had announced on Friday that it would review the status of the monument as a World Heritage Site following Erdogan’s anouncement.
In response to UNESCO’s statement, Cavusoglu said Ankara was surprised by the agency’s reaction, adding that Ankara would let it know of further steps that would be taken regarding Hagia Sophia.