Turkey slams EU condemnation of Hagia Sophia move

Turkish, Maltese foreign ministers discuss bilateral and regional issues, including Libya

Davut Demircan and Ali Murat Alhas   | 14.07.2020
Turkey slams EU condemnation of Hagia Sophia move


Turkey on Tuesday firmly rejected EU condemnations of its decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

“Turkey rejects the words of condemnation used by the EU for turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque,” said Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a meeting with his Maltese counterpart in the capital Ankara.

“As I stated earlier, if [Josep] Borell, EU foreign policy chief, said ‘it would be better if it didn't open,’ I respect that. If he said “it would be better if it stayed a museum,’ I also respect that,’ but we reject the word ‘condemn’,” said Cavusoglu.

Pointing to the 800-year Moorish heritage in EU member Spain, he added: “In Spain, there are some mosques which were turned into churches. So now shall we say to Spain, ‘convert those back into mosques, we condemn you’?” 

“This is also an issue concerning Turkey's sovereign rights,” he explained.

On Friday, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque after an 85-year hiatus. Before 1934 it had been a mosque for nearly 500 years.

Meeting Monday, EU foreign ministers condemned the move.

Eastern Mediterranean issue 

Cavusoglu said Turkey is ready to have a dialogue with all actors in the Eastern Mediterranean region and that disputes in the energy-rich region can be resolved through cooperation. However, he said, Ankara rejects unilateral impositions and sanctions.

Stressing that Turkey will not bow down to anyone in the region, he added that is flexible and ready for collaboration but resolved to take action if need be. 

Cavusoglu said both Turkey and Malta want peace and stability in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean region, adding that both countries play a role in the context of regional issues. 

Tripoli, Libya’s capital on the Mediterranean, lies just 357 kilometers (222 miles) from Malta.

"Stability in Libya is hugely important for Malta, even Italy, and countries in the northern Mediterranean and southern Europe," said Cavusoglu, adding that negative developments there also impact Malta. 

"Therefore, we understand Malta's concerns very well, primarily about illegal migration and terrorism," he said. 

Cavusoglu stressed that Turkey is ready to engage in dialogue with everyone over the Eastern Mediterranean. 

“I explained that we want to be part of work that will guarantee the rights of everyone, especially the Turkish Cypriots, and provide fair sharing,” he explained. 

“In the past, Turkey was excluded in this regard and forced to take unilateral steps. If everybody is ready for dialogue with Turkey, and the Greek Cypriot administration accepts fairly sharing with the Turkish public, we can solve these matters very easily,” he said. 

Turkey’s ties with Malta 

Cavusoglu said Turkey is the second-largest country investing in Malta, and that the countries beat their 2019 trade volume target of $1 billion, hitting $1.2 billion instead. 

Although the coronavirus pandemic disrupted commercial activities, both countries are preparing to take action in the post-virus era, according to Cavusoglu, saying during the outbreak he spoke on the phone with his Maltese counterpart almost every day.

"Turkey ranks second in terms of investments in Malta. We will further encourage these investments," he said, adding that since Malta trusts Turkish construction companies, they are often awarded such projects. 

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