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World: Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said on Thursday Turkey risked opening up "a huge emotional chasm" with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with a proposal to convert the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque.

a view of a large building with Hagia Sophia in the background: FILE PHOTO: Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya is seen in Istanbul © Reuters/Murad Sezer FILE PHOTO: Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya is seen in Istanbul

A Turkish court on Thursday heard a petition seeking to convert the massive sixth century building, originally built as a Christian cathedral and today one of Turkey's most visited tourist sites, back into a mosque.

The court will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said.

"Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument... Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the U.S State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told a news briefing.

Museum or mosque? Turkey decides on the future of Hagia Sophia

 Museum or mosque? Turkey decides on the future of Hagia Sophia © Ozan KOSE Aerial view of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on June 28, 2020 The highest court in Turkey decides on Thursday on the conversion of the former basilica into a mosque Hagia Sophia, a decision that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for at the risk of creating tension with several countries.

a person standing in front of a building: FILE PHOTO: People visit Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul © Reuters/Murad Sezer FILE PHOTO: People visit Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to let Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to remain a museum and to ensure it remains accessible to all.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it to a mosque would disappoint Christians and would "fracture" East and West.

Completed in the year 537 in what was then Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, Hagia Sophia was the biggest cathedral in Christendom for 900 years before becoming a mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

It was converted into a museum in 1934 under the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, but the case before the court challenges the legality of this step.

President Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, has lent his support to turning Hagia Sophia, called Ayasofya in Turkish, back into a mosque.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Erdogan rebuffs criticism over Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque .
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected worldwide condemnation over Turkey's decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it represented his country's will to use its "sovereign rights". Erdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country's secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site. In theErdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country's secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

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