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Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28, 2020.

Murad Sezer/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to continue to maintain the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as a museum, a day before an expected court ruling that may give the legal foundation to groups asking to restore its status as a mosque.

Hagia Sophia was the main cathedral in Christendom for 900 years before becoming a mosque for 500 years until 1934, when it was converted into a museum.

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a building at the heart of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and today one of Turkey’s most visited monuments.

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In a statement on the issue, Pompeo first praised the Turkish government for running the building “in an outstanding manner” as a museum but cautioned that a change in its status would diminish its legacy.

“We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo said.

The court is set to rule on Thursday on a challenge to its current status that disputes the legality of its conversion into a museum in 1934 in the early years of the modern secular Turkish state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

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