A controversial decision by a top Turkish court on July 10 revoked the status of Istanbul's 6th century iconic cathedral, the Hagia Sophia (or Sancta Sapientia), turning the building from a museum into a mosque. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rebuffed opposition from the US, the EU (particularly Greece and France), Russia and other countries, who have urged Ankara to maintain the site's status as a museum.
The Hagia Sophia is a historic house of worship that has served as a Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox cathedral, as a mosque and has until now been a museum since 1935. It is included on UNESCO's World Heritage List and has a special significance for Christians. They see it as one of the most important holy monuments and a legacy of a Christian tradition dating back to the Eastern Roman empire.
The decision to alter the designation of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia - a symbol of interfaith and intercultural dialogue - is a new provocation against Europe and undermines the tolerance and credibility of the country. Cyprus, which has had one-third of its territory occupied by Turkey since 1974, said Ankara had "provocatively ignored" repeated warnings from the European Union to cease its illegal drilling for oil and gas off Cypriot waters. Turkey has attempted to drill in Cypriot coastal waters in an area already licensed to Italian oil company Eni and French firm Total.
- Stavros Papagianneas is the author of the book 'Rebranding Europe' and managing director of Brussels-based StP Communications
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