The executive president of ACN International, Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, has issued the following statement concerning the Turkish government‘s decision to allow Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to be used as a mosque:

“ACN views the proposed reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque with grave concern. Once again a religious issue is being exploited for the purpose of consolidating internal political power. Turkish President Erdogan is apparently attempting to improve his personal popularity ratings by means of this measure, which has been widely criticised around the world, while at the same time diverting attention from the internal problems of his own country.

ACN fully comprehends the outrage this measure has provoked among Christians living in Turkey and throughout the Middle East. It can only intensify the constant weakening and disadvantaging of Christians and other religious minorities in this whole region. Despite the protestations to the contrary, and likewise despite the clear constitutional provisions, these minority groups among the population are often treated as second-class citizens and are increasingly undermined in their roots and their identity.

At the same time ACN views the negative reaction among many nations and politicians in regard to this decision with some scepticism. While there has been a high degree of indignation in regard to the re-purposing of a religious building, the constant and in some cases state-sponsored acts of violence and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities in many countries around the world have often met with little or no reaction.

ACN once again reiterates that the human right to full freedom of religion is inseparably linked to the unimpeachable dignity of the human person, and the foundation therefore calls upon all national governments, and on international organisations such as the United Nations, to actively defend this right.

ACN likewise condemns the increasing forms of extreme nationalism in many countries of the world, frequently motivated by particular religious ideologies. The result of these is that the members of religious minorities in these countries are often seen as aliens and enemies, even where their ancestors have lived in these lands long before those who now constitute the majority took possession of them.

ACN calls in particular on the Western nations to draw lessons from the history of the Middle East in the 20th century and no longer remain silent over the destruction of the fundamental right to survival of minority groups, whether in Turkey, Iraq, India, China, Pakistan or elsewhere. Compared with this frequently bloody persecution, the proposed re-purposing of this important religious building, the precise effects of which are still unknown, is a relatively minor matter.”