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US 'Disappointed' Over Turkey's Decision to Revert UNESCO Site Hagia Sophia Back to Mosque

© REUTERS / MURAD SEZERGli the cat of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was a Byzantine cathedral before it was converted into a mosque and currently a museum, is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, July 2, 2020.
Gli the cat of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was a Byzantine cathedral before it was converted into a mosque and currently a museum, is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, July 2, 2020. - Sputnik International
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The US State Department voiced its displeasure on Friday with a decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convert Istanbul's historic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after it was made a museum in 1934.

“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," a State Department representative said on Friday.

“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," they added.

Hagia Sophia was originally constructed as an Orthodox Christian church in 537 by the Roman Emperor Justinian. It became a mosque when the Turkish Ottoman Emperor Mehmet II captured Constantinople in 1453 and remained a Muslim center of worship until 1931, when it was closed for three years by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secularizing founder of modern Turkey. It reopened in 1934 as a museum.

Earlier on Friday, Erdogan signed a decree rescinding the 1934 decision and making the domed structure a Muslim house of worship once again.

The first Muslim prayers held in Hagia Sophia in 89 years are expected to be the Salat al-Jumu'ah on Friday, July 24.

Greek Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni also criticized the change, calling it "an open challenge to the entire civilized world, which recognizes the site's unique value and global appeal."

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