Despite Turkey’s Lament, Mitsotakis Says Thrace Peace Model (Video)

Photo ND Press Office/Dimitris Papamitsos.

The deadly attacks at mosques in New Zealand are in sharp contrast to peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in northern Greece, major opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, even as Turkey complained Greece won’t recognize a minority there.

With elections coming this year and holding a big lead in polls, Mitsotakis touried Rodopi and Xanthi, which have a Muslim minority and said their rights must be safeguarded but didn’t say if he would allow Turkish Muslims there to be called Turks.

Greece insists they are “Muslim Greeks,” and won’t allow them to elect their own religious leader, or Mufti.

Ζωντανά η ομιλία μου στην Ξάνθη.

Posted by Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday, March 15, 2019

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece has not granted rights of the  Muslim minority in Western Thrace and of forbidding its members to call themselves “Turks,” and wants them recognized as such.

He was speaking after the 54th meeting of the European Union-Turkey Association Council where the bloc’s leaders – following a call by the European Parliament to break off accession talks with Ankara – said they were worried about deterioration in the rule f law in Turkey and interference with the media and courts.

“Greece does not recognize the religious rights of the minority and the muftis (Muslim religious leaders) cannot exercise their rights,” said Cavusoglu, who is also Turkey’s chief negotiator, in response to a journalist’s question.

He added that Turks who live in Greece cannot call themselves “Turks” despite previous rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) they should.

Greece has also rebuffed calls from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let the Muslim community select their own religious leaders who are empowered to give rulings on religious matters and with the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA wanting to be replaced by temporary “observers” to be appointed by the state for up to three years.

In December, 2017, a visit from Erdogan moved Tsipras to consider letting a Muslim minority in northern Greece choose their own mufti, or religious leader, instead of having him be appointed by the state.

Tsipras said the concept was “open” and not tied to relations between the countries before backing off although at the time he a discussion should be accelerated and that legislation paving the way for Muslims to pick their own leader – at the same time the government is building and paying for the country’s first official mosque, in Athen.

Education and Religious Affairs Minister Costas Gavroglou said the government was willing to explore Erdogan’s request although Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias ruled it out and said, “We do not discuss such matters.”

The Muslim minority of Greece is the only explicitly recognized minority in Greece and is said to number as many as 140,000 people, or 1.24 percent of the total population, the US Department of State has estimated.

The Muslims of Western Thrace were exempt from the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, when all of the 1.5 million surviving Anatolian Greeks or Pontic Greeks and Caucasus Greeks were required to leave Turkey, and the 356,000 Muslims outside of Thrace were required to leave Greece, including the Muslim Greek Vallahades of western Greek Macedonia.

Consequently, most of the Muslim minority in Greece resides in the Greek region of Thrace, where they make up 28.88% of the population.

The Greek government started appointing muftis instead of holding elections after the death of Mufti of Komotini in 1985, although the Greek government maintained that as the practice of state-appointed muftis is widespread.

That includes in Turkey and Greece said the practice should be adhered to in Greece, and as the muftis perform certain judicial functions in matters of family and inheritance law, the state ought to appoint them.

Human Rights Watch alleges that this is against Lausanne Treaty which grants the Muslim minority the right to organize and conduct religious affairs free from government interference, although Erdogan wants to rewrite the treaty in his country’s favor and covets the return of Greek islands.