Letter for the safeguard of Hagia Sophia as a World Heritage Site

With a strong cross-party support from MEPs in political groups, other than the far right, the letter was sent today to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

The letter was communicated to all MEPs for the collection of signatures, immediately after the decision of the Turkish President to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which is unacceptable and offensive to the European authorities and values. MEPs place both Mr Borrell and Mrs Azoulay in charge of preserving the character of this universal symbol as a World Heritage Site.

“Hagia Sophia was declared a museum in 1934 by a decree issued by Kemal Ataturk. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1985. Following the Council of State of Turkey ruling, UNESCO issued an announcement on the 10th of July underlining that “Hagia Sophia, part of the property Historic Areas of Instanbul, is inscribed on the World Heritage List as a museum. This inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations. Thus, a State must ensure that no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property inscribed on its territory. Αny modification requires prior notification by the State concerned to UNESCO and then, if necessary, examination by the World Heritage Committee”.

UNESCO furthermore recalled that “effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders concerned by the property is a necessary condition for the preservation of heritage and for the enhancement of its uniqueness and significance. This requirement serves the protection and transmission of the outstanding universal value of heritage and is inherent to the spirit of the World Heritage Convention“.

However, the Republic of Turkey ignored UNESCO concerns and proceeded to a declaration converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia, a site of outstanding universal value, is characterised by UNESCO ”as a model for an entire family of churches and later mosques, and the mosaics of the palaces and churches of Constantinople influenced both Eastern and Western art” and is inscribed to the World Heritage List for ”its unique integration of architectural masterpieces reflecting the meeting of Europe and Asia over several centuries”.

The instrumentalisation of Hagia Sophia by the Republic of Turkey in order to exercise pressure towards Europe unequivocally proves that the Republic of Turkey actively disregards International Law and European values.

In this regard, we call you to take proper action in order to safeguard this World Heritage Site, to protect international agreements and the UNESCO framework and to uphold our core European values and principles.”