BERLIN — On July 12, two human rights organizations based in Berlin issued a joint declaration on the decision taken a day earlier to alter the status of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Both organizations have been in the forefront of efforts to gain official recognition of the genocide, efforts that led to the resolution in the German Bundestag (Parliament) passed in 2016. They are the Working Group for Recognition, against Genocide, and for Understanding among Peoples (AGA) and the Promotional Society for the Ecumenical Monuments for Genocide Victims of the Ottoman Empire (FÖGG).
In presenting the declaration, Dr. Tessa Hofmann, chairwoman of the AGA and Speaker of the Board of the FÖGG, called on readers to distribute the statement widely, to generate effective protest against this dangerous development. It reads (in translation):
“The news of the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque has touched and saddened us. There are some, however, who think one should not attribute such importance to it: Hagia Sophia was always a house of prayer and will now become one again!
In Turkey there is really no lack of mosques. Every year 1,500 new mosques are added — among them, all too often former Christian churches. So, Mr. Erdogan need not worry that there is no house of prayer available to the Muslim community in Istanbul.
Yet, the conversion of the cultural and architectural monument Hagia Sophia is not at all a matter of increasing the number of mosques; it is a continuation of the policy of the Young Turks, the former Committee of Unity and Progress. That policy consisted in not only physically eliminating over three million indigenous Christians, but, on completion of this genocide, in eradicating everything that might be reminiscent of the Christian legacy of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. It was and is a matter of extinction or triumphant appropriation, in this case, of a historic and cultural monument of universal, unique significance. In addition, the Hagia Sophia is the most important place of worship for 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, comparable to the significance of Notre Dame in Paris for the world.
The rulers in Turkey, then and now, neither want to show consideration for the feelings of their Christian citizens, nor to display the necessary respect for their cultural heritage.