Hagia Sophia not a 'common home,' says Turkish foreign minister

(Releads with reference to common home)

The Hagia Sophia has been a mosque since the 15th century conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire and is not a common home, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday.

The reconversion of the iconic sixth century cathedral into a mosque "is not a one-upmanship against any country or belief," state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying in a joint news conference with his Spanish counterpart Arancha González Laya in Ankara.

A Turkish top court’s July 10 decision to revoke the status of the Hagia Sophia allowing its conversion from a museum into a mosque has been met with criticism by the United States, the EU, Russia and other countries, who have urged Ankara to maintain the structure’s status as a museum.

Built as a Byzantine cathedral, the Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque in 1453 before being made into a museum by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1935. The site is on UNESCO's World Heritage List and has a special significance for Christians as the former seat of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Turkey respects the thoughts and pieces of advice to protect Hagia Sophia, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, Çavuşoğlu said.

But “We do not agree that it should remain a site where other faiths will continue to perform worship,’’ he added, dismissing his Spanish counterpart's reference to the site as a “common home.''

Turkey opened the structure to Muslim prayer in an elaborate televised ceremony on July 24 attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in an address to the nation said Hagia Sophia would remain open to people of all faiths.