Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the senior co-chair of the Caucus on U.S.--Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans, today condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyyip Erdogan's decision Friday to reconvert the Hagia Sophia from a secular museum celebrating Turkish culture to a mosque. The move to convert the iconic monument, inaugurated in 537 as a Byzantine Christian cathedral and later named a mosque in 1453, was widely seen as an effort to bolster Erdogan's domestic appeal to conservative Muslims in Istanbul where he once served as mayor.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
"Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning it belongs to the whole world. It is an architectural masterpiece and a vibrant symbol of the crossroads between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage. Changing is status to appease short-term, domestic political appetites is a mistake, and should be reversed before irreparable harm is done to inter-religious dialogue and to its place in cultural history.
"The Hagia Sophia is probably the most visited and highly regarded tourist attraction in Turkey. People of all cultures and religions visit. It contains the heritage of both Christians and Muslims. Making it a mosque would eliminate Turkey's opportunity to have a favorable impact showcasing both traditions together and would needlessly harm Turkey's reputation for being open, tolerant and diverse."