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Deputy FM Amanatidis’ response to a Current Question from MP Nikos Nikolopoulos (Parliament)

Monday, 11 July 2016

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has been characterized a monument of global cultural heritage by UNESCO, and it thereby must enjoy the protection and appropriate respect due to historic monuments of global scope, both de jure and within the framework of the relevant international conventions.

The decision of the Turkish authorities regarding a reading of the Koran in Hagia Sophia, on the occasion of Ramadan, as well as the call to prayer by a muezzin, as broadcast on television from inside the church, constitute an effort to alter the nature and use of a historic monument of global importance.

Actions following the conversion of Orthodox churches into mosques, as happened in the cases of Hagia Sophia Trabzon and Iznik, promote the Islamization of religious and cultural elements.

The above actions constitute not only a flagrant violation of Turkey’s international obligation to respect all monuments, Christian and non-Christian, within its territory, but are also aimed against UNESCO global heritage monuments, violating Turkey’s decision of 1935, under Kemal Ataturk, according to which Hagia Sophia functions as a museum.

Based on article 6, paragraph 1, of the UNESCO Convention, cooperation on the protection of world heritage – and not just of the country hosting the monument – is an obligation of the international community as a whole.

So Turkey is violating its obligation to maintain the authenticity of the monument, particularly as regards its use.

In the midst of a climate of tension and religious extremism, such actions do not promote the respect and rapprochement of religions and the dialogue of cultures, which should be the guide for policy in the region.

In fact, such actions point to the escalating/potential backsliding into practices that are incompatible with Turkey’s European course and with respect for the principles and values that constitute the foundations of the European Union.

[Deputy Minister’s second response:]

The prudent and careful handling of such actions is aimed not only at avoiding escalating actions, but also at the effective and unquestionable defence of positions and what is just.

This is an issue that concerns the whole of the international community and is not limited to the level of Greek-Turkish relations.

As such, Greece moved immediately, proceeding to all of the diplomatic actions and raising the issue with the competent European and international organs, as well as with partner countries, with the result that they have already proceeded to recommendations to Turkey.

In parallel, it has also been noted to the Turkish side that respect for the historical and religious value of the monuments on Turkish territory is not just an international obligation of the country, but an imperative for a nomocracy that aims to join the European Union.

Additionally, the matter has also been denounced to UNESCO. In personal letters sent by foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to the Director General of the Organization, Irina Bokova, referring to the unacceptable Turkish conduct and the need for the protection of cultural heritage by UNESCO.

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