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Swiss company SICPA reportedly holds the operating rights of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia as a museum for seven more years.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia a mosque on July 10 with the first Muslim prayers to begin in two weeks, after a top court ruled the ancient building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

However, SICPA won a tender that was held in 2018 for operating some 54 museums and archaeological sites for nine years with a $3.9 billion bid and holds the right to run Hagia Sophia as a museum for seven more years, daily Dünya reported on July 13.

According to the daily, what followed was Cavidan Gülşen Karanis Ekşioğlu, a manager in the companies of businessman Cüneyd Zapsu, who is a former advisor of Erdoğan, applying to the Competition Board to buy SICPA Turkey.

Turkey will inform UNESCO about Hagia Sophia moves: FM

Separately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on July 13 that Turkey will inform the United Nation’s cultural body UNESCO about changes to Hagia Sophia.

UNESCO said on July 10 it would review the status of the monument as a World Heritage Site following Erdoğan’s announcement.

Çavuşoğlu said Ankara was surprised by UNESCO’s reaction and would let it know of further steps that will be taken regarding Hagia Sophia, which was a Byzantine church for nine centuries before the Ottomans converted it to a mosque.

Turkey is sensitive about protecting its historical character, he said.

“We have to protect our ancestors’ heritage. The function can be this way or that way – it does not matter,” Çavuşoğlu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.

Asked about criticism and expressions of concern from Greece, Pope Francis and others, Çavuşoğlu said the decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque was lawful.

“We respect everyone’s view even if we don’t agree with it but we strongly reject comments made in a way that infringes on Turkey’s sovereign rights,” he said.

Greece condemned the decision on July 10, saying it would have repercussions not only on relations between the two countries, but on Turkey’s ties with the European Union. Pope Francis said on July 12 he was hurt by the decision.