Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 July 2020

Turkish verdict paving way for Hagia Sophia mosque expected Friday

  • The propsoed restoration as a mosque has raised alarm among US, Russian and Greek officials and Christian church leaders
  • Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country

ANKARA: Turkish court is likely to announce on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, two Turkish officials said, paving the way for its restoration as a mosque despite international concerns.
President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was central to both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and is now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
The prospect of such a move has raised alarm among US, Russian and Greek officials and Christian church leaders ahead of a verdict by Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, which held a hearing last Thursday.
At issue is the legality of a decision taken in 1934, a decade after the creation of the modern secular Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to turn the ancient building into a museum.
“We expect the decision to be an annulment (and) the verdict to come out on Friday,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
An official from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots, also said the decision “in favor of an annulment” was expected on Friday.
Pro-government columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper that the court had already made the annulment ruling and would publish it on Friday.
“This nation has been waiting for 86 years. The court lifted the chain of bans on Hagia Sophia,” he wrote.
The association that brought the case said Hagia Sophia was the property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who in 1453 captured the city, then known as Constantinople, and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said a conversion would disappoint Christians and “fracture” East and West. The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church said it would threaten Christianity.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Greece have also urged Turkey to maintain the museum status.
But Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country.


Egypt launches campaign to promote nature reserves and ecotourism

Updated 52 sec ago

Egypt launches campaign to promote nature reserves and ecotourism

CAIRO: Egypt has launched a campaign to promote nature reserves, raise environmental awareness and support ecotourism.
The Ministry of Environment said the campaign was in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Ministry of Information, as well as with the participation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Integration of Biodiversity in Egyptian Tourism project funded by the Global Environment Facility.
The campaign was launched from the Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve in South Sinai in the presence of Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled Al-Anani, and Minister of State for Information Osama Heikal, in addition to 30 ambassadors and representatives from foreign embassies in Egypt.
It aims to support ecotourism, encourage visits to reserves and help people to learn about the local population, including their culture and heritage.
The ministry said the campaign would implement an integrated awareness and communications plan to support responsible and sustainable environmental tourism, and work toward pumping new investments into this sector in a way that supported the sustainability of natural resources.
Fouad said the campaign would run for three years and promote ecotourism through a website and social media accounts, and that there would be a new visitor center in the Ras Mohamed and Fayoum reserves. People from the local community would also be involved through sustainable job opportunities. 
The minister said that natural reserves were receiving the attention and support of the political leadership, therefore the reserves were developed and managed according to international standards in order to preserve them, maximize economic, social and cultural development and preserve Egypt’s rich biological diversity in a way that supported the environment and national economy by attracting more investment in the ecotourism sector.
Heikal said the campaign was an opportunity to clarify the message that tourism did not undermine efforts to develop and preserve the environment, including nature reserves, as an attractive source for tourism.
Al-Anani said there was ministry cooperation in many fields to revitalize tourism, which is one of the pillars of the national economy, including the Ministry of Environment’s decision to reduce fees for day trips to reserves in the governorates of South Sinai and the Red Sea, and fees for daily cruises until the end of next March.