The Hagia Sophia should be used as an intercultural space, two UN human rights experts said Friday, suggesting Turkey’s conversion of the contested landmark “could reflect a supremacist view of history and culture.”
“It would be an historic mistake at this difficult global moment to take actions which divide religious and cultural groups in Turkey and beyond, rather than uniting them,” Karima Bennoune, special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said in a statement.
In what’s been seen as an attempt to energize his conservative power base, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan controversially ordered Hagia Sophia reverted to a mosque. Last Friday, the longtime tourist attraction hosted its first Friday prayers in more than 80 years with Erdogan, a trained imam, leading the service.
Erdogan has responded to critics, arguing that the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque and the restoration of the Sumela monastery in eastern Turkey show “how Turkey protects and beautifies all kinds of civilization heritages on its land.”
Addressing a videoconference July 28, he added, “If we were the kind of nation targeting the symbols of other faiths, as it is claimed or implied to be the case, this monastery, which has been ours for five centuries, would have already ceased to exist.”