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Russia says onus on Turkey to safeguard Hagia Sophia

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Turkey has a direct responsibility to preserve the Hagia Sophia as a world heritage site and allow access for all Christians, said Russian Ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy.

Commenting on the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Osadchiy posted on Facebook that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss its change of status.

“The Russian leader drew the attention of his Turkish counterpart to the fact that this Church is a great monument as well as a part of world-historical and cultural heritage,” Osadchiy said on Facebook Tuesday.

“Preserving its safety is Turkey`s direct responsibility to world culture and the Hagia Sophia should be open for all Christians,” he added.

The diplomat said Erdogan assured Putin that access would be given to the site for all those wishing to visit.

“It shows understanding by Turkish authorities their responsibility to the international community and their desire to soften the perception of its earlier decision.”

Greece on Tuesday described Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a mosque as “unnecessary and petty” and called for tougher European Union action over Ankara’s gas exploration activities in the Mediterranean.

Erdogan’s move to switch the status of Hagia Sophia to a mosque has struck a raw nerve with many Greeks, who revere the sixth-century building as a focal point of their Orthodox Christian faith.

Greece, whose relations with Turkey are fraught with historical tensions, says the matter is not a bilateral dispute.

“With this backward action, Turkey is opting to sever links with the western world and its values,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

“Confronted with this unnecessary, petty initiative from Turkey, Greece is considering its response at all levels,” Mitsotakis said.

A Turkish court ruled last week that Hagia Sophia’s conversion to a museum in 1934 was unlawful. Declaring the building a mosque, Erdogan said prayers would be held there within two weeks, in a move that drew international criticism.

Nicosia has also strongly condemned the move saying Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia is an effort to “distract domestic opinion” and called on Ankara “to respect its international obligations”.