Russia’s Kremlin yesterday called on Turkey to maintain Hagia Sophia’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and not to return it into a mosque as it was before the end of the Othman Empire, TASS news agency reported.
Speaking to reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We by all means hope that Hagia Sophia’s status as a world heritage site will be taken into consideration.”
He added: “Of course, this is a world masterpiece beloved by tourists coming to Turkey from all over the world and especially by tourists from Russia who not only recognise Hagia Sophia’s tourist value but also it’s sacred spiritual value.”
Peskov continued: “We do hope that all this will be taken into account by our Turkish colleagues and partners,” stressing that the Kremlin cannot comment on Turkey’s decision itself. “This is the Turkish republic’s internal affair,” he stressed.
Earlier yesterday, TASS reposted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin telling reporters, Russia expects Turkey will take into account the global significance of Hagia Sophia, when deciding on the fate of this historical monument.
CNN Turk reported that Turkey’s State Council discussed the matter on 2 July, upon the instructions from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The debate lasted 17 minutes, and the decision is expected to be published within the next 15 days.
The Turkish government turned the mosque into a museum in 1934, during the early years of the modern secular Turkish state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The court case disputes the legality of that conversion.