Turkey to inform UNESCO on Hagia Sophia after converting it back to mosque

The site was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985 under Historic Areas of Istanbul, along with other points of significance in the city.

TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan originally proposed re-titling Hagia Sophia as a mosque instead of a museum in March, and last month proposed restoring mosque status to the 6th-century landmark.  (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan originally proposed re-titling Hagia Sophia as a mosque instead of a museum in March, and last month proposed restoring mosque status to the 6th-century landmark.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)
Turkey will inform the United Nation's cultural body UNESCO about steps being taken regarding Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday, after Ankara converted the museum back into a mosque.
On Friday, a Turkish court ruled that the sixth-century building's conversion to a museum was unlawful and President Tayyip Erdogan declared that it is now a mosque. Cavusoglu was speaking in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber.
However, Pope Francis and UNESCO are concerned by Turkey’s decision to restore Hagia Sophia’s status as a mosque after it had served for 76 years as a landmark museum that bore testament to Istanbul’s dual Christian and Islamic history.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia. and I am very pained,” Pope Francis said during his weekly blessing Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.
UNESCO said on Friday it would review the status of the monument as a World Heritage Site following Erdogan's announcement. UNESCO warned over the weekend that Turkey’s decision could impact the site’s status as a World Heritage Site.
The ancient structure was first built as a Byzantine church around 537 AD. It was converted to a mosque in 1453. The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added panels bearing the Arabic names of God, the Prophet Mohammad and Muslim caliphs.
In an attempt to recognize the structure’s dual heritage and to make a statement about Turkey’s secular nature, former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum in 1934. The golden mosaics and Christian icons, obscured by the Ottomans, were uncovered again when Hagia Sophia became a museum.
The site was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985 under Historic Areas of Istanbul, along with other points of significance in the city.
“Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said over the weekend as she issued a rare political statement.
She spoke with Turkey’s ambassador to UNESCO about the matter on Friday night. Several letters on the matter have also been exchanged between UNESCO and Turkey.
UNESCO said it had not been informed about Ankara’s decision to close the museum and reopen the site as a mosque.
“It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior notice,” UNESCO said.

Reuters and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.