State Dep’t Urges Turkey to Respect ‘Complex History’ of Hagia Sophia

By Susan Jones | June 23, 2017 | 12:04pm EDT
The Hagia Sophia, built and rebuilt in the Byzantium Empire, was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and then became a museum in 1935 as Turkey's leaders moved toward a secular, democratic society. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

( – The U.S. State Department is calling on Turkey’s government to “preserve the Hagia Sophia in a way that respects its complex history.”

The magnificent building began life as an Orthodox Christian church in the 6th century; it was converted into a mosque in the mid-1400s; and it has been functioning as a museum since 1935, as Turkey’s leaders established a secular democracy.

But things are changing under Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gained new powers in an April referendum and is embracing Islamic nationalism.

Here’s the exchange that took place Thursday at the State Department;

Reporter from Mega TV, Greece: “The president of Turkey wants to turn the Saint Sophia Church in Istanbul to a mosque. Yesterday they hold Muslim prayers in the church and some government officials attended these services. And I wanted to know the State Department position on this.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert: “The site, Hagia Sophia, is a site of extraordinary significance and we understand that, we respect that. So we call on the Turkish government to preserve the Hagia Sophia in a way that respects its complex history.”

Reporter: “Does that mean you're opposed to the idea of turning it into a mosque?”

Nauet: “I'm not saying that at all. It's a complex history, and we recognize that it is of great significance to other faiths, many faiths, and so we would just encourage the Turkish government to do that, to preserve it.”

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