Turkey’s presidential spokesman reiterated on July 17 that the Hagia Sophia mosque will be opened for everyone and its historical mosaics will be preserved, as they have been for the past 500 years.
Ibrahim Kalın told CNN International that the historical mosaics “are part of our cultural heritage."
"We are making some arrangements to make sure that during Muslim prayer times, they will be covered but not touched," according to Kalın who said they would not be affected.
He highlighted the mosque would “absolutely’ be open to everyone - believers, non-believers, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and anyone will be able to see the mosaics as they once did.
Kalın said Turkey invited everyone to the mosque, including the Pope, who was sad about the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque from a museum.
Religious minorities in Turkey have equal status like everyone else in the country, he said, and they would say: “We enjoy religious freedoms as much as any religious community in the country,” if they are asked.
Reactions to the conversion of Hagia Sophia are based on old assumptions and prejudices - there is religious freedom in Turkey, Kalın said.
The iconic monument was first built as a church in the Byzantine period. It became a mosque after Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Istanbul in 1453.
In 1934, the Turkish government turned the Hagia Sophia Mosque into a museum.
Last week, a top Turkish court annulled the 1934 Cabinet decree, which turned Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum.
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