U.S. disappointed by Erdoğan's decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque - Exclusive

The United States government is looking forward to hearing about Turkey's plans to ensure that the Hagia Sophia remains accessible without impediment for all.

In an exclusive statement to Ahval, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus expressed “disappointment” by the decision, and reminded that the Hagia Sophia is an important part of the "Historic Sites of Istanbul" UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The statement sent via e-mail, stated, 

“We are disappointed by the decision by the Government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia. This building is an important part of the "Historic Sites of Istanbul" UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its rich multicultural history.

We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Ankara to keep Hagia Sophia as a museum, on the eve of an expected recommendation by Turkey’s highest administrative court on whether to revert the UNESCO World Heritage site into a mosque. That ruling came on Friday, in line with the Turkish government's wishes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan handed the control of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s top state religious body Diyanet on Friday, shortly after the country’s highest administrative court annulled a 1934 decree that converted the disputed landmark from a mosque to a museum.

Hagia Sophia will be free to enter, and its doors will remain open “for all, local and foreign, Muslim and non-Muslim”,  Erdoğan said in a televised speech following the declaration.

The monument has served as a museum since the early days of  the Republic of Turkey, however Erdoğan had repeatedly suggested over his years in office to turn it into a functioning mosque again to fullfill a long-standing demand by Turkish Islamists.