Wednesday 22 July 2020
London. RESPONSE Yannis Andritsopoulos
A position change on Hagia Sophia is being attempted by London, which only last week spoke of Turkey’s “sovereign issue”, “welcoming” indeed the “assurances” provided by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A letter from the British Minister responsible for Cultural Heritage, which today reveals “TA NEA”, notes that Hagia Sophia transcends national borders and points out for the first time that Turkey is bound by UNESCO obligations, under which it must demonstrate that conversion to a mosque will not harm the character of Hagia Sophia or restrict access to the building.
The letter was sent on 17 July by Tourism and Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston to the Conservative Friends of Greece group, which had called on the British government to express its opposition to Ankara’s decision. “Hagia Sophia has a value that transcends national borders and belongs to all mankind” stresses the British Minister and continues: “The World Heritage Convention places specific obligations on Member States, such as from time to time reporting on the conservation status of World Heritage Sites, informing UNESCO of any proposals that may affect their Outstanding Universal Value and ensuring that they share these monuments and that ( their visitors) learn about them”.
As Huddleston notes, “although each Member State is essentially responsible for making decisions about monuments within its borders, the World Heritage Committee and advisory bodies can provide advice and guidance to ensure that monuments are protected.” The British Minister recalls that the issue will be discussed at the next meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and stresses that there “the Turkish Government will have to prove that the conversion (into a mosque) will not harm the Outstanding Universal Value of (Agia Sophia) or restrict access to it”. He concludes by saying that “the British Government will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
“We welcome this response. This is an issue that has caused anguish in the Greek, Cypriot and Orthodox communities of Britain. We hope the government will continue to monitor it. Culture, heritage and religious freedom are at stake,” Conservative Friends of Greece group president Stephanos Ioannou told “TA NEA”.