Official UNESCO Statement on Reconversion of Hagia Sophia into Mosque

By Patricia Claus

UNESCO, the United Nations body tasked with the identification and preservation of sites with the greatest significance to the world’s priceless common heritage, issued a statement on Friday regarding Turkish President Erdogan’s official decree turning Hagia Sophia, the greatest cathedra of Eastern Christianity for almost one thousand years, into a mosque.

“Hagia Sophia, part of the property “Historic Areas of Istanbul,” is inscribed on the World Heritage List as a museum,” the statement begins.

“This inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations. Thus, a State must ensure that no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property inscribed on its territory.

“Any modification requires prior notification by the State concerned to UNESCO and then, if necessary, examination by the World Heritage Committee.

“’Outstanding universal value’ is the basis for the decision to inscribe any property on the World Heritage List. The texts adopted by the Committee specify that the “Historic Areas of Istanbul” is inscribed notably for “its unique integration of architectural masterpieces reflecting the meeting of Europe and Asia over several centuries” and because “Hagia Sophia became a model for an entire family of churches and later mosques, and the mosaics of the palaces and churches of Constantinople influenced both Eastern and Western art.’

“Thus, Hagia Sophia, as a component of the property “Historic Areas of Istanbul” has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value.

“UNESCO furthermore recalls that effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders concerned by the property is a necessary condition for the preservation of heritage and for the enhancement of its uniqueness and significance. This requirement serves the protection and transmission of the outstanding universal value of heritage and is inherent to the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.

“UNESCO has therefore shared these concerns with the Republic of Turkey in several letters. We call upon the Turkish authorities to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”