Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered some 500 law enforcement officers to constantly guard the Hagia Sophia building, which is currently undergoing reconstruction following its conversion to a mosque.
"As we earlier announced, Hagia Sophia will remain open 24 hours a day. Now it will also be constantly guarded by the 500 law enforcement officers thanks to our interior minister [Süleyman Soylu]", Erdogan said.
The decision comes after the Turkish Council of State's decision to convert the museum back to a mosque was met with criticism from Christian communities and protest taking place outside of the religious site. The council's ruling reversed a 1934 decision made by the first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to turn the mosque and former major Christian church into a museum. The iconic structure was later chosen to be a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Erdogan tried to soothe protests by promising that Hagia Sophia would be open to everyone, not just Muslims, arguing that this way it would be more accessible to a broader public. He also stated that turning Hagia Sophia into a museum had been a historical mistake.
Ankara's decision has been heavily condemned by Greek and Russian Orthodox churches as well as EU foreign ministers, while the Catholic Pope has stated that he is "deeply saddened" by the move.