QA-32, 24 July 2021, Statement of the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Tanju Bilgiç, in Response to a Question Regarding the Decision adopted on “Historic Areas of Istanbul” during the Extended 44th Session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee
The Grand Mosque of Hagia Sophia and the Chora Mosque, the components of the World Heritage Site “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, are restituted to mosque upon the decisions of the Turkish Council of State following a legal process. The Hagia Sophia and the Chora are the properties of the Republic of Turkey that are meticulously conserved in terms of historical, cultural and spiritual value.
The functional usage of the Hagia Sophia and the Chora are solely related to Turkey’s sovereign rights. Since the Hagia Sophia, that is opened to worship one year ago, was registered in its Foundation Deed as a mosque, its functioning accordingly is only an act of restitution and exercising sovereignty rights.
From the very outset of the restitution process, Turkey has been in open and uninterrupted communication and cooperation with UNESCO World Heritage Center. The two visits of UNESCO Advisory Mission to Istanbul upon Turkey’s invitation clearly manifest our constructive and transparent approach which is also reflected in the Advisory Mission reports.
The ongoing restoration programmes and other implementations in both monuments have no negative impact as per to UNESCO standards, on the contrary they aim at protecting the authenticity and the integrity of the property as corroborated by the UNESCO missions of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
We are astonished by the decision adopted during the Extended 44th Session of the World Heritage Committee, where Turkey is currently an observer State Party, which includes expressions that contradict with the Advisory Mission reports and the factual situation in these monuments.
Turkey disassociates itself from the relevant articles of the decision on the “Historic Areas of Istanbul” based on biased, unfair wording prepared with political intentions, which is incompatible with the implementations, the factual situation and the Advisory Mission reports. A statement in this regard was made by our delegation during the session to be reflected in the Summary Records of the meeting.
Fully aware of its rights, prerogatives and responsibilities towards its properties on UNESCO World Heritage List, Turkey will continue its diligent and rigorous efforts to preserve its sites within the framework of our commitments to the 1972 World Heritage Convention as a State Party since 1983.