The Conservative Friends of Greece would like to openly thank
Alexander Stafford MP for standing up for religious freedom, heritage, and standing alongside all Greeks, Cypriots- Orthodox belivers- in the issue of Hagia Sophia.
Alexander Stafford: Conservative MP, Rother Valley
My right hon. Friend will be only too aware of the recent Turkish ruling that Hagia Sophia, that Byzantine masterpiece inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list, should be turned into a mosque. This architectural wonder was built by Justinian the Great, then turned into a mosque and finally dedicated as a secular museum by the great reformer Atatürk. It now risks having its beautiful murals, mosaics and frescoes damaged or destroyed. That would be a loss to the whole world and, furthermore, would exacerbate community tensions. Will my right hon. Friend hold a debate in Government time on Turkey’s actions, UNESCO’s response and the protection of this important world heritage site?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
We have noted President Erdoğan’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and while that has caused concern internationally—I particularly note the comments of the Holy Father—the Government regard this as a sovereign matter for Turkey. However, we would expect that Hagia Sophia, as part of a UNESCO world heritage site, remains accessible to all, as testament to Turkey’s rich and diverse historical and cultural legacy, and that its precious artefacts are preserved. We therefore welcome the public statements by Turkish leaders that this historic building will continue to be accessible to people of all faiths and nationalities, which is consistent with the Turkish constitution’s provision for freedom of conscience and religion for all.
It is for states party to the world heritage convention to ensure that their designated world heritage sites comply with the terms of the convention. We work closely with UNESCO, its advisory body and partner Governments to promote the highest standards of heritage protection. That will ensure that designated sites are protected effectively for the whole of humanity and for future generations.