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.
Erdogan has openly said he wants Turkey to have its own nuclear weapons. The time has come for the EU to take its responsibilities seriously and for its member states show more unity than just solidarity on paper. Josep Borell, the European High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, begged Ankara a few weeks ago to stop interfering in Libya. However, the Turks are sending thousands of soldiers to north Africa, violating a United Nations (UN) embargo every day.
The role of Turkey demonstrates that the EU is not able to guarantee the security of its borders. It is a paradox and shows the extreme weakness of a non-existent European policy for foreign affairs and migration. It shows the inability of finding solutions to vital security problems.
The question is, what are the European capitals going to do in the event of armed conflict? Are they going to fight back or will they look the other way? Reconverting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is not only an affront to the monument's global significance, but it will also adversely impact Turkey's relations with the EU, the US, Greece, Russia and UNESCO.
It shows that the Erdogan regime has no respect for other religions and is not willing to respect the country's international obligations. The Hagia Sophia must be re-established as a historic monument of exceptional and universal significance, and as a symbol of respect between religions and among people.
- Stavros Papagianneas is the author of the book 'Rebranding Europe' and managing director of Brussels-based StP Communications
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