By Staff writer
UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul to open as a mosque later this month
A leading UAE official has called on cultural heritage to be safeguarded in reference to the ancient Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which is controversially set to open again as a mosque later this month.
The Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
The UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul has been a museum since 1934.
However, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday that its museum status would be annulled following a ruling from the country’s top administrative court.
Noura bin Mohamed Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, and chairperson of the National Committee for Education, Culture and Science, said that cultural heritage is a human legacy that must be preserved.
“It should neither be misused nor altered through change in a way that touches the human essence. Especially for sites that are inscribed under World Heritage by UNESCO. They have exceptional international value, and are the common heritage of all peoples and cultures,” she said.
In a statement published through the state-run Emirates News Agency (WAM), Al Kaabi said that the change in the status quo of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was done without any regard to the civilizational value of this historical edifice. "It has remained a global landmark with significant cultural legacy. It also served as a bridge connecting different peoples and cementing their bonds," she said.
In a statement, UNESCO demanded that countries that are home to cultural heritage sites should not alter them in ways that harm their outstanding universal value. A country that wants to alter anything should inform UNESCO in advance so the world heritage committee could look into it if need be.
Al Kaabi said: “It (Hagia Sophia) is designated as a heritage museum by UNESCO. It is an architectural marvel and is a unique witness to the interaction between Asia and Europe across centuries. It is a symbol of dialogue.”
The US, meanwhile, said it was “disappointed by the decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument back into a mosque and urged equal access for all visitors.