Letter to UNESCO

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have been writing to UNESCO for three years regarding the gradual takeover of the former Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Hagia Sophia by the Erdogan Government in Turkey. Since my last letter to UNESCO, the organization disgraced itself by hosting a conferenc in Turkey at the time of the infamous Coup last Summer. UNESCO’s decision to host a conference in Turkey is almost comparable to the  International Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.

As UNESCO is surely aware, the Turkish regime has been gradually taking possession of the Hagia Sophia Church-Museum. The first steps
were undertaken in the preceding three years when the Church-Museums of Hagia Sophia in Trebizond, Edirne, and Iznik were all converted into  Mosques. The fact that all these former Churches were named Hagia Sophia was not a matter of coincidence. Ankara very carefully attempted to assess the international climate when it seized the well known Hagia Sophia of Trebizond first. Having received very little, if any opposition Ankara gradually moved on.

Holding prayers outside Hagia Sophia of Constantinople and staging a magnificent celebration of the conquest of Constantinople this past May 29 could be seen by observers of the Turkish political scene as ominous warnings for things to come. UNESCO’s pathetic indifference for the threatening  atmosphere and climate of intimidation for the Christian communities of Turkey speaks loudly about the priorities of UNESCO for human rights, religious freedom,  and the survival of “World Heritage Sites”. Since July, formal prayers have been held twice a day within Hagia Sophia which makes a mockery of UNESCO’s “World Heritage” list. Now it is reported prayers are being held four times a day in Hagia Sophia and the government in Ankara has appointed an Imam to  Hagia Sophia.

If UNESCO does not raise its voice to protest even at this late date, of what significance is it’s precious “World Heritage” list? It is not too late at this time to protest publicly at the misuse of Hagia Sophia and UNESCO may even enhance its reputation were it to do the right thing at long last. Whatever the future of  Hagia Sophia may be, it should not be said that its ultimate destruction came about because no one had the courage to protest. Hagia Sophia survived defilement and desecration by the Crusaders, became the site of the massacre and enslavement of Greeks during the Fall of Constantinople (so proudly celebrated by the Erdogan regime) and ultimately its divinely inspired iconography was either destroyed or covered up.

There are interests at stake in Hagia Sophia that are cultural and artistic as can be seen by the activities of Byzantinists in the twentieth century who helped restore Hagia Sophia. But there are also religious interests at stake. Hagia Sophia is the product of the Holy Gospel and Greek Orthodox theology. Hagia Sophia’s misuse by the regime in Ankara is an international hate crime and makes those who remain silent accomplices in the act and all things that shall ultimately follow.

Theodore G. Karakostas