UNESCO said on Friday its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared the ancient monument in Istanbul a mosque again.
Erdogan made the announcement shortly after a high court ruled that the sixth-century building’s conversion to a museum in 1934 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, was illegal.
UNESCO said that decision raised questions about the effect on its universal value as a site worth focusing on transcending borders and generations, which is necessary to be included on its coveted list of World Heritage web sites.
Countries must notify the United Nation’s cultural human body of any changes in the status of a niche site, triggering a review by its World Heritage Committee if you need to, it said in a statement.
OPINION: Hagia Sophia will become a mosque again, it is both Turkey’s and an Islamic right
“It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialogue nor notification beforehand,” the United Nation’s cultural human body said in a statement.
“UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” it said.
The World Heritage site was at the centre of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and is today one of Turkey’s most-visited monuments, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
The United States, Russia, Greece, and Christian church leaders had urged Turkey to maintain Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum.