US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and said Istanbul’s celebrated former cathedral should remain open to all, AFP reports.
Erdogan has mused about turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, triggering tension with neighboring Greece.
Pompeo issued a statement on the eve of an expected Turkish court decision on whether Hagia Sophia was rightfully turned into a museum.
“We urge the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo said.
“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability — so rare in the modern world — to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo — an evangelical Protestant who often speaks about the rights of religious minorities — said that the United States hoped to maintain dialogue with Turkey over the preservation of religious and cultural sites.
Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak Mashalian has endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia’s status as a place of worship, but has urged to allocate space for Christians.