July 6, 2016
To: Irina Bokova
Dear Mrs. Bokova,
Having been made aware that UNESCO will be meeting in Istanbul between July 10 and 20, we appeal to you directly to raise with the authorities the issue regarding the status of the World Heritage site of Hagia Sophia. As is well known, the Turkish authorities intend to gradually convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a Mosque. We believe UNESCO has a responsibility to protest these intentions of the Turkish government.
As has been widely publicized, Hagia Sophia has been used for the performance of Islamic prayers since the beginning of Ramadan.Furthermore, since July 1, Hagia Sophia has been used for the first time since 1931 as a call to prayer. Over the past two years, large crowds have frequently gathered outside Hagia Sophia to perform their prayers. UNESCO officials have denied any sort of intentions by the Turkish authorities to transform Hagia Sophia into a Mosque despite the mounting evidence since 2013, including public statements made by Turkish officials.
We wish to remind you that Hagia Sophia was established as a Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church during the sixth century and was used as such until 1453, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Hagia Sophia must be protected not only for historic reasons, but also because it is a holy site for Orthodox Christians. As a World Heritage Site, Hagia Sophia must be protected by UNESCO. It should be noted that Turkey has already converted three former Church-Museums named Hagia Sophia into Mosques. It has been fairly obvious based upon these trends what Turkey’s plans for Hagia Sophia have been, not withstanding UNESCO’s denial.
Therefore, since UNESCO will be convening in Turkey in the coming days, we ask from the organization to put a protest forward to oppose any further use of Hagia Sophia for purposes that threaten its present status as a Museum.
International Hellenic Association