Turkey, World

Hagia Sophia not a matter of int'l affairs: Turkey

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterates that Egypt's call for cease-fire in Libya is 'stillborn' for Turkey

Merve Aydogan   | 11.06.2020
Hagia Sophia not a matter of int'l affairs: Turkey


The Turkish foreign minister on Thursday said Istanbul's Hagia Sophia is "not a matter of international affairs, but a matter of national sovereignty."

Speaking in a televised interview, Mevlut Cavusoglu responded to the recent discussions over the possible reopening of Hagia Sophia museum as a mosque and said the popular site was initially a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul.

Stressing that no one should comment on freedom of religion in Turkey, Cavusoglu said the steps taken in the last 20 years towards various minorities in the country is evident.

Turkey's top diplomat also slammed the US over the recently published 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom and said it is "tragicomical" for the US to comment on freedom of religion and human rights.

Cavusoglu reminded of the ongoing racism, xenophobia and hostility towards Islam in the US and said Muslims there, even those at Congress are facing harassment and attacks at the highest level.

He said it is "rather meaningful" to initiate a discussion on whom the Hagia Sophia and even Istanbul belongs to.

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.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has underscored the Ottomans converted the building into a mosque instead of razing it, a fate suffered by many mosques taken from Ottomans.

Cavusoglu also commented on a recent call by Egypt for a cease-fire in Libya and reiterated that the so-called Cairo Declaration is "stillborn" and not "genuine" or "realistic".

"We can proceed for a binding cease-fire in Libya under the umbrella of United Nations," he said and added that a political transition may begin once the cease-fire under the UN is achieved.

Cavusoglu stated that through his behaviors, warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is not sincere, proved that he has no place in Libya's future.

On claims of Haftar leaving Libya, Cavusoglu said: "I do not know … but we see that there is a serious breakdown on the ground."

"Especially when we look at tribes and tribal leaders, there is a rapid transition towards the side of legitimate National Accord Government … They were unable to do it due to the pressure by Haftar who previously controlled those regions."

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's new government was founded in 2015 under a political deal led by the UN.

The internationally recognized government and the western parts of the country have been under attack by Haftar's forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.

The Libyan Army has made significant military gains against Haftar's militias in recent days, capturing all the country's western cities to the Tunisian border and regaining strategic locations, including the Al-Watiya airbase and Tarhuna, which is viewed as a significant blow to Haftar's forces.

‘Int’l community is against Israel’s annexation plan’

The Turkish official also addressed Israel's annexation plan of the West Bank and the so-called “Deal of the Century” and said: "The international community is also against the [Israeli] annexation. They are also aware that Deal of the Century is not realistic."

Cavusoglu called on Islamic world to keep its determined stance against Israel’s controversial move and added: "This is also not a matter of Islamic world … We must hold a conference and give a message to Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced that his government intended to annex the Jordan Valley and all settlement blocs in the West Bank early next month.

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is seen as an occupied territory under international law, thus making all Jewish settlements there -- as well as the planned annexation -- illegal.

The annexation comes as part of US President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century," which was announced on Jan. 28. It refers to Jerusalem as "Israel's undivided capital" and recognizes Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian officials say that under the US plan, Israel will annex 30-40% of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem.

Regarding the current situation in Syria’s Idlib, Cavusoglu said the matter of patrol points maintains its status.

“The [Assad] regime continues its violations but we still maintain the cease-fire. We observe some radical groups are also causing problems on the ground and we discussed these matters with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov the other day,” he said.

He also stressed the significance of focusing on political transition in the country.

Foreign tourists expected in Turkey

With normalization starting in Turkey amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cavusoglu said Turkey expects foreign tourists in the country.

He said specific criteria are determined towards the matter.

On Wednesday, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said Turkey will resume all tourism facilities planned to reopen as of July as part of normalization process.

Meanwhile, Turkey on Wednesday resumed international flights, which have been suspended for two months, as part of the normalization process from the coronavirus pandemic.

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