Turkey confirms Hagia Sophia to open for worship

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

Court ruling paves way for Istanbul's Hagia Sophia to revert to mosque

The court decision was followed quickly by Erdogan saying that the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul would be reopened for Muslim worship. "Any modification must be notified beforehand by the state to Unesco and be reviewed if need be by the World Heritage Committee", the United Nations body told Reuters.

The Unesco-listed Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom), or Ayasofya in Turkish, was completed in 537AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, and for centuries served as one of the world's most important centres of Christianity. Erdogan made his declaration, only an hour after the court administering was uncovered, in spite of worldwide alerts not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old landmark, worshipped by Christians and Muslims the same.

The almost 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, whose grand dome, minarets and rust-colored walls define the Istanbul skyline, draws millions of visitors every year.

"I invite everyone to respect decisions taken by judicial and executive bodies of my country on Hagia Sophia", Erdogan said, stressing that how the historical complex would be of use was a matter of national sovereignty.

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On Saturday, the council's statement underscored that "by deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey's openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division".

The Council of State, Turkey's highest administrative court, had unanimously cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision making the Hagia Sophia a museum.

Mr Biden called on Mr Erdogan to reverse it "and instead keep this treasured place in its current status as a museum, ensuring equal access for all".

The Hagia Sofia was made a museum by the founder of the Turkish Republic Ataturk "to avoid precisely this kind of debate or defence" which the current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan has brought up. He said, "Like all our mosques, its doors will be open to everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim".

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said a conversion would disappoint Christians and "fracture" East and West. The structure became a Muslim mosque, with minarets added, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and the city was renamed Istanbul.

Greece, home to many millions of Orthodox followers, called it an "open provocation to the civilised world".

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Last week the USA secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said any change would diminish the Hagia Sophia's ability "to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith, traditions and cultures".

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

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