MOSCOW, July 7. /TASS/. The Russian State Duma (lower house) has called on members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (parliament) to influence the authorities when discussing the changes in the status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and prevent possible damage to it. The lower house of the Russian parliament approved the text of the appeal at a meeting on Tuesday.
"Members of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation appeal to their counterparts, members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, in connection with the Turkish authorities considering a sensitive issue for our citizens about changing the status of Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul," the appeal said. It noted that it is "an outstanding monument of Byzantine architecture, a world masterpiece added to the UNESCO World Heritage List." In addition, this is "one of the places of interest in Istanbul visited by Russian tourists most often," lawmakers stressed.
"Members of the State Duma are convinced that it is essential to take all possible steps in order to prevent the damage that could be caused by a hasty change in the status of the world-famous museum," the appeal reads, stressing that Russian lawmakers "deeply appreciate the friendly nature of Russian-Turkish relations, which are particularly important for the peoples… [of Russia and Turkey] amidst difficult times of growing geopolitical and other contradictions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Russian parliamentarians asked members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly "to analyze the situation thoroughly" and called on those responsible for "making the decision on the status of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to show wisdom and not to review the decision by founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which turned the Hagia Sophia into a symbol of peace and interfaith harmony for many years."
The CNN Turk TV earlier reported that Turkey’s Council of State had discussed the issue on July 2 on instructions from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the TV channel, the debate lasted 17 minutes, and the decision is expected to be made public within 15 days.
The Hagia Sophia is an example of Byzantine architecture built in 532-537 on the orders of the Emperor Justinian I. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the cathedral was converted into a mosque in 1453. In 1935, under a decree signed by founder of the modern Turkish state Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the cathedral became a museum. In 1985, the building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.