The EU and UNESCO mustn’t enable Hagia Sophia to be captured by Turkey’s non secular nationalists


For 1,500-years, Hagia Sophia, as soon as the best non secular constructing within the Christian world, has held a deep significance for the individuals of what’s now referred to as Istanbul (previously Constantinople). Completed in 537 A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the complicated grew to become the seat of the Eastern Orthodox patriarch and the location of Byzantine imperial ceremonies.

Hagia Sophia spent greater than 900 years because the navel of the world for Eastern Orthodox Christians and as an inspiration for architects and artisans employed by the Doges of Venice, marauding Crusaders from Western Europe, the Holy Roman Emperors of Aachen, and the princes of Kievan Rus.

In 1453, the Ottoman Empire below Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople. The new Muslim ruler of what had been the capital of the Byzantine Empire insisted that the church wanted to be renovated and transformed right into a mosque.

Hailed by Ottoman architects as an aesthetic and engineering marvel, they proceeded to cowl the centuries-old mosaics, whereas including minarets and ritual cleaning areas to the ever-growing complicated. For nearly two centuries, till the completion of the close by Blue Mosque, the transformed Hagia Sophia was the primary place of worship for Friday prayers in Ottoman-controlled Constantinople.

When the Ottoman Empire was dismembered and at last abolished following the top of the First World War by the founder of recent Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, he ordered Hagia Sophia to be changed into a museum and celebrated as an emblem of Istanbul’s layered and multicultural heritage. Since then, the location has develop into an emblem of Istanbul and is Turkey’s most generally recognised cultural heritage website – the museum was essentially the most visited website in Turkey in 2019.

That distinctive standing, nonetheless, will come to a tragic and pointless finish following a choice by Turkey’s highest court docket to strip Hagia Sophia of its standing as a secular constructing and permit Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to show the constructing again right into a mosque.

Far too many commentators and information experiences have tried to border the difficulty – which is able to undoubtedly trigger an immense quantity of political and diplomatic upheaval with lots of Turkey’s allies and shut buying and selling companions – as a dispute between Greece and Turkey. It could be straightforward to view it by means of this slim prism, given the 2 nations’ historical past of animus and the continued disputes within the Eastern Mediterranean over the standing of Cyprus and power exploration initiatives.

The difficulty over the conversion of Hagia Sophia right into a mosque has little to do with Greek-Turkish relations, and is, as an alternative, a significant disaster that reminds the worldwide group that the preservation of world cultural heritage is as paramount because the assure of human rights.

The UN, particularly UNESCO, and the EU have an obligation to ensure that architectural achievements like Hagia Sophia stay a cultural heritage for the world to, not solely take pleasure in, however to be taught from.

As one of many earliest entries onto UNESCO’s record of “World Heritage Sites”, Hagia Sophia is preeminent examples of what UNESCO refers to as “a masterpiece of human creative genius” which “exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design” that “bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared” and is “an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history” – the primary 4 listed standards cited by UNESCO to qualify as a protected World Heritage Site.

The reality that every one of this has been disregarded by Erdogan is of no shock to those that have stored a detailed on eye on his makes an attempt to resurrect sure parts of the Ottoman Empire, together with his embrace of Orientalism over nearer ties to Europe and his overt rejection of the Turkish Republic’s Kemalist secularism in favour of nationalist-based Islamism.

The indisputable fact that he whole-heartedly backed the change Hagia Sophia’s standing from an emblem of Ataturk’s fashionable Turkey to a showpiece of his personal model of his nation, which hoped to form right into a staunchly conservative and non secular republic, is par the course in Erdogan’s Turkey and will be thought of a shock for the heads of UNESCO and the leaders of the European Union.

Not unexpectedly, vocal protests and condemnations of Erdogan’s actions have steadily poured in, even earlier than the court docket dominated on Hagia Sophia’s standing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already warned that any change in Hagia Sophia’s standing would diminish its means to “serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of different faith traditions and cultures”. Erdogan’s move has additionally sparked widespread anger in Russia, with Kremlin and Russian Orthodox officers describing the mosque proposal as “an unacceptable violation of religious freedom.”

UNESCO, which has struggled to search out its footing after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew the United States from the organisation in 2019, has, not surprisingly, been comparatively muted regarding Hagia Sophia. Deputy Director Ernesto Ottone Ramirez providing a tepid affirmation that the location’s standing can’t be altered with out wider approval from the physique’s personal intergovernmental committee.

But it’s the EU, because the world’s standard-bearer for the preservation of historic monuments, that has a specific obligation to guide the Western world in ensuring that the lack of considered one of mankind’s best architectural accomplishments to a nationalist and non secular motion by no means occurs.

To enable Hagia Sophia to be returned to the standing of a mosque could be one more instance of the European Union wilfully capitulating to the circumstances round it and an extra demonstrative forfeiture of its function because the champion of world cultural heritage.

Moreover, if Turkey needs to proceed to be thought of an EU candidate nation, Brussels can’t enable Erdogan’s model of Turkish Islamism to infringe upon the widespread cultural ideas of the European Union by inflicting additional non secular discrimination.