As experts feared, Erdogan’s decision to repurpose the building might lead UNESCO to reconsider its world heritage status. Those in charge of the building have minimised the incident in which the “Imperial Door” was vandalised. Without proper precautions, the dome might collapse on worshippers by mid-century.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – When the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia (and Chora), antiquities experts raised the alarm and UNESCO threatened to reconsider world heritage status.
Converting it into a mosque would strip the building of its universal value as well as increase the risk of damages, irreparably compromising its historical, cultural and symbolic value, as an element of unity for everyone in Turkey, regardless of religious affiliation.
Now, the fears have come true as after the building suffered its first act of vandalism last month, against the “Imperial Door” of the former Christian basilica, which was re-established as a mosque at the behest of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a campaign of gradual "Islamisation" of Turkish society.
Bits of the imposing oak door located at the entrance to the building were reportedly chipped off. The perpetrator or perpetrators have not yet been identified, and no proper investigation is underway.
The security guard responsible for the building tried to minimise the damage and downplay the seriousness of the incident. However, many now fear that such incidents could be repeated and be more serious in the near future.
Serif Yasar, head of the Turkish Union of Art History, warns that the failure to protect the ancient door is a sign of more to come. In this view, “The dome of the Hagia Sophia might collapse on the worshippers by 2050” if no precautions are taken.
The incident in April could be the first of many disasters in the world heritage site due to neglect. As a result, experts and activists have recently renewed their criticism of Turkish authorities and President Erdogan, who appear to be failing in their duty to protect the country’s historical, cultural and architectural beauty and heritage.
UNESCO, the UN agency for education, arts, sciences and culture, is also critical of the ways Turkey is not following guidelines to protect the building.
Since the management of the iconic place was transferred from the Turkish Ministry of Culture to the Directorate of Religious Affairs, there is no real appreciation for existing structural and environmental risk factors.
Such neglect “might compromise this enormous but so very fragile building,” this according to an expert, quoted in Al-Monitor.