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Worried by Hagia Sophia’s conversion to mosque, Russian MPs want to control Orthodox locations in Turkey

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A senior politician in Moscow says a group of Russian MPs intend to appeal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to transfer control of Orthodox Christian locations inside Turkey to the jurisdiction of Russia, Russia Today reported on Friday.

Sergey Gavrilov, the head of Russia’s State Duma Committee for the Development of Civil Society, Public Issues and Religious Associations, believes the country needs to begin negotiations with Turkey to take control of churches that formerly belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church. According to him, the transfer of Christian objects would be a “wise, well-considered political and legal decision.”

“I believe that, today, this issue should be resolved,” he said. “We need to discuss at least seven churches that once belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church – about their return and restoration.”

Gavrilov’s statement comes just days after the Russian Orthodox Church expressed its dismay at Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia, a former Orthodox cathedral, into a mosque. Hagia Sofia operated as a church for almost 1,000 years, before being turned into a mosque and later a museum. It’s re-conversion back into a place of Islamic worship angered many within the Russian Orthodox community. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations in Russia, called it “a slap in the face [of] the Orthodox Church, with the whole Christian world.”

According to Gavrilov, MPs want Russia to take control of not only churches, but Orthodox farms, pilgrim centers and hotels that were “built by Russians and belonged to [Russia] before the revolution.”

On Tuesday the Kremlin reported its satisfaction that Turkey would stick to its pledge to keep Hagia Sophia open to visitors, even after its conversion is completed. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the former cathedral “has sacred meaning to all Orthodox believers” but noted that its status is “an internal affair of Turkey.”

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