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What Happened: The Russian Orthodox Church has rejected the proposed conversion of Turkey’s historic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, stating the move could provoke inter-religious tensions, the Orthodox Times reported yesterday. “Any attempts to change the museum status of Hagia Sophia Cathedral will lead to changing and violating fragile inter-confessional balances,” the church’s head of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion, said.

Analysis: Hagia Sophia, the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman mosque and now a museum, is one of the most-visited museums in the world and a gem of architectural history. This church is a symbol of Byzantium and a symbol of Orthodoxy for millions of Christians all around the world, especially for Orthodox believers. The Russian Orthodox Church official, also voiced concerns that the Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a mosque would mean access would be restricted to visitors of other faiths. The Turkish president however stated that if converted into a mosque, the Hagia Sophia would remain open for visitors, comparing it to Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque. Rather than reflecting any real intention to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, recent comments by Erdogan and other Turkish officials may signal upcoming snap elections, analysts say. Critics accuse the ruling party of using the religious debate as a means to bolster support amid an economic crisis. The move also comes amid rising tensions with Greece which is majority Orthodox. Over the past few months, the neighboring countries have locked horns over territorial issues, including over gas drilling in the Mediterranean and over Cyprus.

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