ANKARA 

Bringing it back to its roots, Turkey will protect Hagia Sofia’s cultural heritage like its predecessors did, Turkey’s president said Tuesday.

“While making Hagia Sophia suitable for its foundation again, we will preserve its cultural heritage feature just as our forebears did,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said following a Cabinet meeting at the presidential complex.

“We turned Hagia Sophia into a museum [in 1934] with a mistaken decision, and we are returning it to a mosque again,” Erdogan added.

Erdogan stressed that there are four to five times more places of worship in Turkey for non-Muslims than Europe has for Muslims.

“There is on average one place of sanctuary for 460 non-Muslims, while there is on average one place of sanctuary for 2,000 Muslims in Europe,” he said.

Last week, a top Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree, which had turned Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum.

This verdict by the country’s Council of State paved the way for its use again as a mosque after an 85-year hiatus.

Before that, it had been a mosque for nearly 500 years.

The court ruled that the architectural gem had been owned by a foundation established by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul, and presented to the community as a mosque – a status that cannot be legally changed.

Hagia Sophia was used as a church for centuries under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. It was turned into a mosque following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum.

Erdogan said the historical complex will be ready for worship by Friday prayers on July 24.

Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

Erdogan also condemned the Armenian attack on the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan.

“We strongly condemn the attack by Armenia against friend and brother Azerbaijan,” Erdogan said.

Seven Azerbaijani soldiers were martyred, including a general and a major in a border clash with Armenian troops on Sunday.

Erdogan stressed Turkey’s concern over the tension that has been going on since the invasion of Upper Karabakh to turn into a conflict with Armenia’s “reckless and systematic attacks”.

Upper Karabakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, is an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, since 1991 through military aggression.

Erdogan underlined that the attack carried out on the borders of the two states with heavy weapons shows that it was a deliberate attack on Azerbaijan.

“This attack goes beyond the diameter of Armenia. The aim is both to block the solution in the Upper Karabakh and to reveal new conflict areas.

“Turkey will not hesitate to stand against any kind of attacks against Azerbaijan’s rights, law and soil,” Erdogan added.

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