The Council of the City of New York
Council Member Costa Constantinides, District 22

July 28, 2020
Contact: Terence Cullen

Astoria, NY — New York City Greek-American elected officials are calling on the Trump administration to formally condemn Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Erdoğan, for his decision to close the historic Hagia Sophia as a museum. 

State Senators Michael Gianaris and Andrew Gounardes, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, and Council Member Costa Constantinides sent a letter to President Trump last week, asking he finally stand up to the Turkish strongman — who’s long been accused of suppressing his own people’s civil rights. 

“This newfound policy is a strong-armed blow to inclusivity and pluralism. We must stand together in holding agitators accountable and upholding democratic values,” the lawmakers wrote. “As leaders of communities from New York City, a place you know well, we see firsthand how love of our neighbors holds us all together. When we cast aside this principle, we very quickly entreat into rivalries. The Hagia Sophia is an Earthly manifestation of neighborly love and the arc of history that points us to our shared values,” they continued.  

The 6th Century Hagia Sophia has for the last 85 years served as a museum, in recognition both of its historic architecture as well as the fact that it has served as a house of worship for several different faiths over the last 1,500 years. UNESCO recognized the building’s history in 1985 when it designated Hagia Sophia a World Heritage sight. 

UNESCO, the European Union, and a growing list of other global leaders condemned Erdogan’s reversal of a 1934 decree, in which the Turkish government converted Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum. The New York City lawmakers argue the designation long served as a common bond and understanding between the faiths that used this structure over more than a century. 

“In recognition of Turkey’s pluralistic diversity, the Hagia Sophia has been for decades a public museum so that ALL can enjoy and celebrate its wondrous beauty and symbolic history,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “The decision by Erdogan to erase this history – and in the process, erase nearly a century of Turkey’s secular multiculturalism – is another in a long line of examples of state sanctioned intimidation and persecution against Turkey’s minority religious communities. I join with New York elected officials of Greek Orthodox descent to say that this decision cannot stand.”