09:21 GMT09 August 2020
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    ATHENS (Sputnik) - Greek Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni on Friday described Turkey's decision to turn the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque as an egregious act of defiance against the entire civilized world.

    "Today's decision, a product of President Erdogan's political will, is an open challenge to the entire civilized world, which recognizes the site's unique value and global appeal," Mendoni said, adding that the court's decision demonstrates an alleged lack of independent judiciary in Turkey.

    Meanwhile, Greek broadcasters have interrupted their scheduled programming to report the news on Hagia Sophia. The Sputnik Greece website set up a live feed from Istanbul, where a group of Muslim faithful who gathered near the cathedral met the court's decision with shouts of approval.

    On the same day, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias raised the issue during a teleconference with his European People's Party counterparts.

    "I have informed my colleagues about this provocation against the international cultural heritage as well as UNESCO, which is the decision to annul Kemal Ataturk's decree of 1934 on protecting the cathedral of Hagia Sophia by converting it into a museum," Dendias tweeted.

    UN Chief 'Fully Backs' UNESCO’s Statement on Hagia Sophia’s Change of Status

    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supports the statement made earlier by UNESCO that any change in Hagia Sophia’s status should be reviewed by its World Heritage Committee, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a press briefing on Friday.

    “We just got off the phone with our UNESCO colleagues. We, of course, fully back UNESCO - they have the primary responsibility within the UN system on dealing with the maintenance of these global heritage sites,” Dujarric said.

    A further statement by UNESCO on the decision taken by Turkey is expected to follow, Dujarric added.

    Russian Orthodox Believers Grieve Over Turkey's Decision to Convert Hagia Sophia, Priest Says

    Russian Orthodox believers grieve over Turkey’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, the rector of St. Seraphim church in the US city of Sea Cliff, New York, protopriest Seraphim Gan, told Sputnik on Friday.

    “I think all Orthodox people in the world grieve over Turkey’s decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia to the mosque,” said father Seraphim, adding that he expresses his personal opinion.

    “Hagia Sophia is a very important and deep symbol for all Russian believers,” said father Seraphim, who also serves as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) Synod of Bishops Chancellor.

    Over 1,000 years ago, the Russian Duke Vladimir sent his missionaries to Istanbul to learn about Christianity, he noted.

    “Hagia Sophia was a place where they met the Christian faith, which later enlightened our forefathers,” the priest added.

    Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda told Sputnik the church regrets that Turkey made the decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque despite the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill's calls not to do so.

    Earlier in the day, Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, was reported to have annulled the 1934 decree converting Hagia Sophia into a museum, meaning it can now be used as a mosque. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already signed the necessary decree.

    Hagia Sophia was founded by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was opened on December 27, 537. The cathedral, considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, had been the world's largest building for over a thousand years.

    After the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans and the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque, but since 1934, the building, by a decree of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, became a museum and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    Christians, Russia, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey, Greece
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