Following the decision by the Turkish government to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque, the Department of Pastoral and Social Theology expresses strong disappointment and disapproval of this decision, which is inconceivable with regard to the democratic values of the modern world, values established by the decisions of international organizations and the solid legal structure of each state governed by law.
The Hagia Sophia, known as the “Great Church” since the time of its inauguration by Justinian, was identified with the long history of Eastern Christianity, Romiosini and, of course, with the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose prominent figures are still depicted today in its unique mosaics. It is no coincidence that the first-raking Church of Constantinople retained this memory, even after the Fall of Constantinople and the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, almost 900 years after its construction, using the title “The Great Church of Christ” and identifying its historical and spiritual course with the timeless splendor and universal refulgence of the Great Church of Justinian, the Holy Wisdom of God.
For the modern Turkish Republic, in its attempt to take on the characteristics of a secular state, adopted the principles of religious tolerance and coexistence, Hagia Sophia could no longer maintain its “stolen” identity as a mosque and, therefore, it was converted into a museum, preserving its historical name from the Byzantine times (Ayasofya Müzesi) and giving the opportunity to all people regardless of religious and race to visit this monument. This fact even made it one of the most recognizable and visitable monuments in the world.
The decision of the current Turkish government not only overturns this targeted use of Hagia Sophia as a museum, but also any notion of tolerance within the framework of the operation of Islam, which is why it has provoked reactions even from Islamic organizations and associations around the world. By canceling the status of Hagia Sophia, the Turkish government closes the door on world culture, and de facto cancels its decades-long-established identity as a World Heritage Site, a monument of invaluable tangible and intangible heritage. In addition, it denies in practice the intercultural and interreligious dialogue and the principle of equal coexistence of people regardless of religious or racial identity, retreating to intolerant rhetoric, which, unfortunately, brings to mind images and perceptions that led to tremendous crises and holocausts.
The religious-ideological background of this decision leads the Turkish government into a direct confrontation not only with the whole of Christendom but also with the pacifist nature of all religions. Forming a strong current of opposition and revocation of this culturally offensive decision, through an interfaith and intercultural alliance of religions, organizations and institutions around the world, is now more necessary than ever.