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World Council of Churches expresses dismay over Hagia Sophia decision

The Istanbul landmark’s status has been changed from a museum to a mosque.

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A man waves a Turkish flag outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (AP)

A man waves a Turkish flag outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (AP)

A man waves a Turkish flag outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (AP)

The World Council of Churches has written to Turkey’s president expressing “grief and dismay” over the decision to change the status of Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.

Interim secretary general of the council Ioan Sauca wrote that, as a World Heritage museum, “Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations”.

The colossal Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453.

The secular Turkish government decided in 1934 to make it a museum.

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Muslims offer their evening prayers outside the Hagia Sophia (AP)

Muslims offer their evening prayers outside the Hagia Sophia (AP)

AP/PA Images

Muslims offer their evening prayers outside the Hagia Sophia (AP)

Mr Sauca said the museum status had been “a powerful expression” of Turkey’s commitment to inclusion and secularism.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has formally converted the building back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled the 1934 decision to turn it into a museum.

Mr Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the debate over Hagia Sophia to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party.

The decision has provoked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.

PA