Moscow Says Turkey’s Hagia Sophia Move an ‘Internal Affair’

Turkey’s move followed a court decision last week revoking the museum status of the UNESCO World Heritage site, and has triggered a global outcry.

«We proceed from the fact that this is a Turkish internal affair in which neither us nor others should interfere,» Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin told reporters.

He stressed however the importance of Hagia Sophia for «world culture and civilization,» Russian news agencies reported.

Russia said Monday that Turkey’s decision to turn the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque was the country’s own business.

The Hagia Sophia was constructed as a cathedral during the Byzantine Empire but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

It is to reopen this month for Muslim worship as a mosque after almost nine decades as a museum.

Vershinin’s statement came after the Russian Orthodox Church expressed dismay at Turkey’s decision.

«The concern of millions of Christians were not heard,» Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said on Friday.

Kremlin Urges ‘Restraint’ After Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes

Russia on Tuesday urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to show restraint after a deadly escalation in fighting along their shared border.

«We are deeply concerned about the exchange of fire on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border,» Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow was calling on «both sides to show restraint.»

The ex-Soviet Caucasus nations have been in a decades-long conflict over Azerbaijan’s southwestern separatist region of Nagorny Karabakh, which was seized by ethnic Armenian separatists in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.

Peace talks mediated by the «Minsk Group» of diplomats from France, Russia and the United States have been going on since the 1994 ceasefire.

Peskov told reporters that Russia was «ready to provide mediation efforts as a co-chair of the Minsk Group» after the latest flare-up.

Eleven Azerbaijani military personnel have died since border clashes on Sunday reignited, while Yerevan has so far denied any losses.

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