Intel: Pompeo warns Turkey against reverting Hagia Sophia to mosque

al-monitor This aerial picture taken on June 28, 2020 in Istanbul shows Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul. Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris


Topics covered

religion in turkey, us-turkish relations, hagia sophia, recep tayyip erdogan, pompeo

Jul 1, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today waded into the Turkish debate over whether to turn the historic Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque.  

“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and 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,” said Pompeo. “We seek to continue to work with the government of Turkey on a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including the preservation of religious and cultural sites.”

Pompeo praised Turkey’s “outstanding” administration of the Hagia Sophia as a museum for nearly a century, allowing it to remain “accessible to all.” The secretary's warning comes after US envoy for religious freedom Sam Brownback called on Turkey last week to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  

Why it matters:  Pompeo’s statement comes the day before Turkey’s Council of State — the country’s highest administrative court — reviews a request to undo the historic building’s status as a museum, a bête noire for Turkish Islamists. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office has hinted that the Turkish government could endorse reverting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia aside, the United States and Turkey differ on several other contentious issues, including Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 Russian missile system and its campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in northeast Syria.

What’s next:  The Council of State’s ruling on the Hagia Sophia could come as soon as tomorrow or within the next two weeks.

Know more:  Kadri Gursel examines Erdogan’s use of the Hagia Sophia card to bolster his socially conservative base amid a backlash over Ankara’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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