A Turkish court heard a case aimed at converting the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. It will announce its verdict within 15 days.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is delivering a speech during the cutting ceremony of Levent Mosque in Istanbul on July 3, 2020.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is delivering a speech during the cutting ceremony of Levent Mosque in Istanbul on July 3, 2020. (AA)

Criticism of Turkey over the possible conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia museum to a mosque "is an attack on Turkey's sovereignty", Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Speaking at the cutting ceremony of a mosque in Istanbul, Erdogan said that Turkey will always protect the rights of Muslims and the minorities living in the country.

Conversion of status

Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a building at the heart of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and today one of Turkey's most visited monuments.

"Accusations against our country about Hagia Sophia directly target our sovereign rights," said Erdogan, responding to concern over the proposal from the West, particularly Greece, France and the United States.

"We are determined to continue to protect the rights of Muslims, our country's majority faith, as well as members of all other faiths and religions," he added at the formal opening of another mosque in Istanbul.

A Turkish court on Thursday heard a case aimed at converting the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. It will announce its verdict within 15 days.

Historical background

The Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years. In 1453, it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II when the empire conquered Istanbul.

Following the restoration work during the Ottoman era and the adding of minarets by architect Mimar Sinan, the Hagia Sophia became one of the most important works of world architecture.

Under the Turkish Republic, it became a museum.

READ MORE: Turkey organises Conquest Feast at Hagia Sophia

International criticism 

Earlier this week Turkey said it was "shocked" at a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Erdogan not to go ahead with the plan.

France's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the sixth-century structure, which served for nine centuries as a Christian cathedral before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, must remain open to all. 

Ankara has maintained that the possible conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque is its internal matter.

The Turkish president noted that there are 435 churches and synagogues in Turkey where Christians and Jews can pray.

Erdogan said there are thousands of historical places of worship belonging to different periods and civilisations, most notably Gobeklitepe, which is considered the first temple established by humanity.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies