Senators Risch and Menendez Issue Statement on Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Turkey's ancient Hagia Sofia can be converted to a mosque, court rules

"We wanted to come and visit Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia museum but unfortunately we realised that from today it is closed", said Renato Daleo, tourist from Italy. "Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue".

While details of the change aren't yet known, Turkish officials have remarked that many famed houses of worship, such as for instance Paris' Notre Dame and Istanbul's Blue Mosque, will also be open to visitors.

The Turkish leader urged everyone to "respect" Turkey's decision.

However, Turkish judges ruled on Friday afternoon that Ataturk's cabinet decision to secularise the mosque and open its doors as a museum was illegal.

The country's top court had, in a ruling, revoked the monument's secular status as a museum and the subsequent decree from the Erdogan government reconverted the status of the 1,500-year-old iconic monument into a mosque.

Erdogan's announcement drew fierce pushback from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who called the move a "deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site". But the way Hagia Sophia's will be used falls under Turkey's sovereign rights.

The World Heritage site was built in the 6th century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian as a cathedral of the Greek Orthodox church before being converted to a mosque under the Ottoman empire nine centuries later.

Erdogan spoke on Friday just hours after the court ruling was published, brushing aside global warnings not to change the status of the almost 1,500-year-old monument that is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.

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He undermined the Turkish President's plans as anti-Islamic because it says in the Quran that Churches or Synagogues should never be converted into Mosques.

"God willing, we will perform Friday prayers all together on July 24 and reopen Hagia Sophia to worshipping", Erdogan said in an address to the nation.

Previously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would "fracture" East and West.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this month that converting the Hagia Sophia would limit "its unsurpassed ability - so rare in the modern world - to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures".

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus stated that "we are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia".

On Saturday, police had put up barriers around the Hagia Sophia.

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