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Russia hopes Turkey fulfills its obligations on Hagia Sophia, top diplomat says

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that for Russians Hagia Sophia is particularly valuable from the spiritual point of view

MOSCOW, October 26. /TASS/. Moscow hopes that Ankara will fulfill its obligations related to the status of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA).

He emphasized that for Russians Hagia Sophia is particularly valuable from the spiritual point of view. "We proceed from the fact that the Turkish side, as we were assured numerous times, will be guided by principles of mutual respect, will treat the feelings of the Orthodox believers with due attention and will fulfill the obligations it undertook to observe all rules and conditions related to the status of the site, will ensure its complete integrity and accessibility for tourists and pilgrims," the top diplomat pointed out. He noted that the Russian side has regularly informed the Turkish partners of its position, both at high and the highest levels.

According to him, the activity of the monitoring mission of experts of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre is important for the evaluation of the cathedral’s condition. "We hope that according to the results of the inspection conducted on October 5-9 of this year, the commission’s conclusions will be presented soon, including the expert report regarding the quality of the restoration work conducted by the Turkish side as well as ideas on observing open access to Hagia Sophia of representatives of all confessions," he concluded.

On July 10, the Turkish Council of State invalidated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s 1934 decree that had bestowed Hagia Sophia with its museum status. Later in the day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order declaring Hagia Sophia open for Muslim worship. Local Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, voiced their regret over the decision, along with UNESCO.

Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine-era architectural monument. The cathedral was constructed between 532 and 537 AD by a decree from then Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. In 1935, following the decree of the Turkish government signed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, the building was opened as a museum. White plaster covering Christian mosaics and murals was removed. In 1985, the building was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.