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Turkey announces that Hagia Sophia can be turned back into mosque

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Turkey's Hagia Sophia to open for Friday prayers on July 24

In a speech later that day, he said the mosque would open for Friday prayers on July 24. Completed in 537 A.D.by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the complex became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox patriarch and the site of Byzantine imperial ceremonies.

Shortly after the announcement, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagia Sophia and was broadcast on all of Turkey's main news channels.

While details of the change aren't yet known, Turkish officials have remarked that many famed houses of worship, such as for instance Paris' Notre Dame and Istanbul's Blue Mosque, will also be open to visitors. The cultural site's social media channels have now been taken down.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hit back against criticism of his decision to convert Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, accusing critics of not protecting religious minorities in their own countries.

The UNESCO World Heritage site in historic Istanbul, a magnet for tourists worldwide, was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. "Any modification must be notified beforehand by the state to Unesco and be reviewed if need be by the World Heritage Committee", the United Nations body told Reuters.

The issue over the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque has little to do with Greek-Turkish relations, and is, instead, a major crisis that reminds the global community that the preservation of world cultural heritage is as paramount as the guarantee of human rights.

UNESCO, in a statement Friday noting that the Hagia Sophia was included on the World Heritage List as a museum, said its inclusion meant that a state "must ensure that no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property inscribed on its territory". It will "continue to embrace everyone", Anadolu quoted Erdogan as saying.

Erdogan went ahead with the plan despite an open appeal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally the United States as well as Russian Federation, with which Ankara has forged close relations in recent years.

Before the decree, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the change would threaten the Hagia Sophia's ability "to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures." .

The Turkish leader urged everyone to "respect" Turkey's decision. Deputy Director Ernesto Ottone Ramirez offering a tepid affirmation that the site's status can not be altered without wider approval from the body's own intergovernmental committee.

The restoration of the building to its Ottoman-era status is a major political coup by Turkey's pugnacious leader, who has repeatedly vowed to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque but faced intense pressure from the United States and other Western allies to abandon the plan.

The move was also condemned by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom as an "unequivocal politicization" of the monument.

"This is a debate president Erdogan can not lose and the opposition can not win".

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