St. Sophia turned into mosque, wrath of UNESCO: Turkey decides without informing


Unesco is greatly angered by the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque-Turkey's decision without informing.

Unesco has expressed strong disappointment over the transformation of the Hagia Sophia basilica into a mosque. Harsh stance from the United Nations’ top organization for culture: in a note, Unesco’s director-general, France’s Audrey Azoulay, expresses “deep regret at the decision of the Turkish authorities, taken without discussion, to change the status of St. Sophia.” Azoulay later communicated her concerns to the Turkish ambassador to UNESCO.

St. Sophia, moreover, is part of the World Heritage Site and, Azoulay said, “is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to exchanges between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol of dialogue.” And the decision to convert it back into a mosque raises issues inherent in the universal value of the property: indeed, states that have World Heritage listed properties must ensure that a change in status does not undermine the “significant universal value” a site needs to be part of the UNESCO listings. And UNESCO itself should be informed in advance of any change, which should go through the World Heritage Committee’s review.

In addition, the note says, UNESCO reminds that there is a need for “effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders in the ownership of the property in order to preserve the heritage and to emphasize its uniqueness and significance. The purpose of this requirement is to protect and convey the relevant universal value of the property, and is in line with the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.”

Unesco has already sent several letters to Turkey, and finds it “regrettable” that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior communication. Therefore, UNESCO, the note concludes, “calls on the Turkish authorities to initiate a dialogue without delay in order to prevent any harmful effect on the universal value of this exceptional property and its conservation status, which will be considered by the World Heritage Committee at its next meeting.”

“It is important,” Ernesto Ottone, assistant for culture to the director-general, finally stresses, "to avoid enacting any measures without first discussing them with UNESCO, because this could have an impact on the physical access to the site, on the building structures, on the movable properties of the site, or on the management of the site. Most importantly, they could constitute a breach of the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

St. Sophia turned into mosque, wrath of UNESCO: Turkey decides without informing
St. Sophia turned into mosque, wrath of UNESCO: Turkey decides without informing