Erdoğan provides assurance to Putin on preservation of Hagia Sophia - Orthodox Times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of open access to visitors and the preservation of relics of the Hagia Sophia in a phone call between the pair on Monday, the Orthodox Times reported.

The Russian president drew the attention of Erdoğan to “the significant social impact caused in Russia regarding the decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia,’’ it said, citing a statement released by the Kremlin.

On Friday, Erdoğan ordered the conversion of the city's 6th century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after a court annulled a 1934 presidential decree that made it a museum.

Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, the structure was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453.

The transformation of the building has been met with international condemnation, including Russia, where the leader of Russia's Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said last week he was "deeply concerned" over the move to alter  "one of the greatest monuments of Christian culture."

But on Monday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said Turkey's decision to turn the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque was the country's own business, Ria Novosti reported.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency did not include Hagia Sophia among the topics discussed between the Russian and Turkish leader on Monday.

The pair discussed developments in war-torn Libya and Syria, along with other issues, Anadolu said, citing the Turkish Communications Directorate.

Russian news agency TASS reported that Erdoğan congratulated his Russian counterpart on successfully organizing a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments. 

Earlier this month, nearly 78 percent of Russian voters backed constitutional reforms that could keep Putin in power until 2036.

The pair "discussed the possibility of resuming tourist activities," it quoted a statement released by the Kremlin press service as saying.

Turkish authorities have proposed July 15 as a date to resume flights with Russia,  following a months-long suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.