STATEMENT ON HAGIA SOPHIA BY PRESIDENCY OF UCLG-MEWA CULTURE AND TOURISM COMMITTEE
Members of the Presidency of UCLG-MEWA Culture and Tourism Committee made a written statement to endorse the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque. Yücel Yılmaz (Mayor of Balıkesir), Rasim Arı (Mayor of Nevşehir), Volkan Yılmaz (Mayor of Silivri), Zeynel Abidin Beyazgül (Mayor of Şanlıurfa) and Iraj Shahin Baher (Mayor of Tabriz) are signatories of the relase.
“As members of the UCLG-MEWA Committee on Culture and Tourism,
We believe that cultural heritage and cultural rights should be protected in the best way at local, national and international levels. As the Committee, operating within the United Cities and Local Governments Middle East and West Asia Section (UCLG-MEWA), we are carrying out our activities according to these priorities.
We appreciate the reopening of “Hagia Sophia Museum” for worship by the decision of the Council of State of the Republic of Turkey, and subsequently by Turkish Presidency on 10 July 2020. Hagia Sophia served as a mosque for believers uninterruptedly for 481 years, from 1453 to 1934.
Following the Ottoman takeover of Istanbul in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II registered Hagia Sophia as an endowment, and since then, this monument has held the status of endowment (waqf). Therefore, restoring the mosque status of Hagia Sophia will not create a problem of legitimacy; on the contrary, it is a necessity in regards to the law of endowments. Since 2012, Hagia Sophia has been referred to as a “mosque-museum” in Istanbul’s urban development plans. With respect to the protection and revival of this precious heritage, it is a proper decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia, a property inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, into a place of worship in accordance with its original identity rather than maintaining its museum status. The UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972 and other related conventions do not pose an obstacle to the change of status of properties on the World Heritage List. Cordoba Mosque (Andalusia, Spain) in the World Heritage List, which was converted into a cathedral in the 13th century, is an indication of this.
We welcome that the Government of the Republic of Turkey has ensured that as with other mosques in the Middle East and West Asia, Hagia Sophia Mosque will be open to all visitors, regardless of faith, and will be protected as a cultural heritage. In this regard, we declare that we strongly support the decision to reopen Hagia Sophia as a mosque.”