(Source: CD/Sputnik)

Turkey is showing disregard towards Christian cultural heritage and failing to fulfil its promise to maintain free access to Hagia Sophia, Nikolay Balashov, an archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church, told Sputnik on Friday, addressing Ankara’s latest decision to convert another former church into a mosque.

“It seems that the Turkish leaders are ready to continue to consistently ignore the global value of the heritage of conquered Byzantium, which they do not understand, and to openly demonstrate a contemptuous indifference to Christian cultural values”, Balashov said, adding that Ankara’s approach does not contribute to peace and mutual respect between followers of different religions.

The archpriest also said that although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to maintain free access to Hagia Sophia’s Christian relics, mosaics and frescoes are constantly covered.

Balashov added that women have limited access to the site of the former church, and main cultural relics are not visible to them.

He suggested that the same fate awaits the Chora Church, where many valuable Byzantine-era mosaics and frescoes are kept but which was the subject of a decree from Turkish president Recip Tayyip Erdogan August 21 ordering a change in its use from secular State museum to mosque.

The archpriest added that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has fully lost influence “at home”.

Hagia Sophia, one of the most iconic Byzantine symbols in present-day Turkey, was converted into a mosque in July.

Many countries have expressed regrets over Ankara’s decision, while Turkey views the matter as its internal affairs.

Novena’s full coverage of the Hagia Sophia mosque reversion:

Hagia Sophia is now a mosque again, but the veiling of its Christian icons is not Muslim tradition

Historian, on Hagia Sophia: “The problem is political, not religious. Erdogan acted for the sake of nationalism, not the Muslim faith”

Explainer: Why does Hagia Sophia still stir such strong passions after 1,500 years?

Watch: Hagia Sophia hosts Muslim prayers for first time in 86 years


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.