The Russian Orthodox Church has rejected the proposed conversion of Turkey's historic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, stating the move could provoke inter-religious tensions, the Orthodox Times reported yesterday.
"Any attempts to change the museum status of Hagia Sophia Cathedral will lead to changing and violating fragile inter-confessional balances," the church's head of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion, said.
According to the Department's International Religious Freedom Report, the US State Department also notes that senior US government officials expressed to Turkish officials their view that Hagia Sophia is a monument of exceptional significance that must be preserved in a way that respects its religious history.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high-ranking officials have repeatedly expressed the view that the 6th century monument, currently a museum, must be converted into a mosque.
Meanwhile, yesterday, speaking to Turkish TV channel CNN Turk, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said: " If the court decision comes through [to open Hagia Sophia for worship], I will not be worried about tourism, we will find a solution."
Hagia Sophia, the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman mosque and now a museum, is one of the most-visited museums in the world and a gem of architectural history.
Last month, Erdogan stated his intent to restore Hagia Sophia's mosque status, and recently allowed a special Quran reading there.