Ukrainian Christians have weighed in on the push to turn the museum of the mosque-basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque again, saying that the “neutral status” of the monument is the “key to friendship” between the Muslim and Christian religions.
Full text of the open letter of Ukrainian religious experts and civil society regarding the fate of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral
(Source: Religious Information Service of Ukraine)
To His Excellency
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President of the Republic of Turkey
First of all, let us express our deepest respect to you and all the Turkish people. Echoes from the internal Turkish discussion and statements of its officials about the status of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, one of the most magnificent sacred buildings of Turkey and the entire world, have reached our lands. We are watching the fate of one of the greatest European cathedrals with sincere anxiety.
For Ukraine, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral is one of the central historical symbols.
This temple played a crucial role in the history and culture of Ukrainian people.
The Grand Prince Volodymyr accepted Christianity under the impression of stories of his messengers that were mesmerized by this cathedral’s untold beauty. For almost half of a millennium, Hagia Sophia was the main cathedral for our Ukrainian Сhurch.
In this very place, generations of our metropolitans received their ordinations. This very temple served as a prototype for our own most sacred cathedral, the Saint Sophia of Kyiv. It was the paragon of countless churches – as well as countless mosques.
Hagia Sophia was the biggest and the main Christian cathedral for almost a thousand years. After 1453 it became one of the main attractions of Turkish Istanbul and remains so until now.
It embodies the spirit and philosophy of this place.
As Istanbul unites Europe with Asia, being the bridge between the worlds, Hagia Sophia unites Christians and Muslims, being the sacred place of two biggest world religions.
We believe that the decision to turn it to the museum was a wise and strategic one.
It is not just a symbol of one culture, despite what some commentators tell, it is not a symbol of the East or West – it is a symbol of unity, a sacred pinnacle, the place where East and West meet in a respectful bow – and a great blessing for Turkey.
The new challenges of today, be they geopolitical, cultural, ecological, or social, make life more and more complicated for every nation.
In these dire circumstances we need unity and wisdom, we need coordination and mutual support of all great nations – and Turkey is, undoubtedly, among them.
Under your leadership, Turkey embarked on a glorious path of a strong regional leader that took the responsibility for peace, stability, and justice in one of the most complex and important regions of the world.
The Republic of Turkey is – and always was – a country where all the traditions of this great land were held in great esteem and with great care. Turkey preserved prehistoric, antique, medieval, and modern pieces of Muslim, Christian, and even pagan heritage.
The Ottoman Empire united many nations and peoples, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. From Mesopotamia to Morocco and from Austria to Ethiopia, it was open and hospitable to different cultures and traditions from Asia, Africa, and Europe, which made it powerful and let it triumph against many adversaries, including some narrow-minded fanatics, whose successors are trying to oppose Turkey even now.
This heritage of openness and cultural diversity is Turkey’s great treasure.
Not only does it attract tourists, but creates a reputation of a great and hospitable state that respects its past and creates a successful present and future. Cooperation and mutual openness are a big opportunity for rapid development.
Ukraine is also a country of many cultures and a land where different traditions meet each other. Here arose the great Muslim nation of Crimean Tatars, which are not alien to Turkish people.
In contrast with our aggressive neighbor that treacherously annexed Crimea, Ukraine has never discriminated against Islam or Turkic-Turkish peoples, never obstructed their development and always tried – and is trying – to be a comfortable home for millions of Ukrainian Muslims.
Ukraine supports studying Islam and the history of Turkic-Turkish peoples, builds mosques, and revives the ancient Muslim traditions of its people.
The openness for Muslims in our own home gives us hope that Muslim countries will be open for Christians as well. The times of struggle between Christian and Muslim worlds are long gone, and now they both struggle against materialism and atheism. The modern religious world is built not on the basis of competition but on the basis of mutual help.
We, descendants of Ibrahim, Isaac, and Ishmael, should cooperate for peace, prosperity, and unity, as The Almighty commands.
This spirit of mutual trust is of utmost importance for us, the two big countries of the Black Sea Region, two great gates of Europe. It is undoubtedly our common national interest.
We respect the sovereign dignity of the Republic of Turkey, the right, and the exclusive responsibility of the Turkish government to make its decision on the territory of the Turkish state. So all we can do is to hope and humbly ask you to hear our voice.
A neutral status of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral is the key to friendship, respect and mutual understanding not only between our nations but between the two greatest civilizations of the world, the Muslim one and the Christian one.
Let The Almighty guide you and help you in your noble and wise decisions.
With respect and esteem.