Turkey on Wednesday criticized US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks on the country’s iconic Hagia Sophia.
In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said: “We are shocked at the statement made by the US State Department on Hagia Sophia.”
Turkey protects all of its cultural assets, including Hagia Sophia, without any discrimination within the framework of the tradition of tolerance from our culture and history, the statement added.
“Hagia Sophia, situated on our land is the property of Turkey, like all our cultural assets,” it said.
Any issue regarding Hagia Sophia is “our internal affair as part of Turkey’s sovereign rights,” the statement added.
“Naturally everyone is free to express their own opinion. However, it is not for anyone to talk about our sovereign rights in the style of ‘we urge, we demand’,” the statement added.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo said in a statement that the museum status should be maintained “as an exemplar of [Turkey’s] commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all.”
“The Government of Turkey has administered the Hagia Sophia as a museum – officially recognized by UNESCO as part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site – in an outstanding manner for nearly a century,” he added.
The Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years. In 1453, it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II when the empire conquered Istanbul.
Following the restoration work during the Ottoman era and the adding of minarets by architect Mimar Sinan, the Hagia Sophia became one of the most important works of world architecture.
Under the Turkish Republic, it became a museum in 1935.