A dispute over the closed Halki Seminary School has hit another obstacle as Turkey has said it will stay shut unless Greece reopens the Fetihye Mosque in Athens.
Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Metin Kulunk said: “Have no doubt, Turkey has not taken a step to re-open Halki Seminary and it will not take a step until Greece, who did not hold up the promise it gave in Lausanne, opens the Fethiye Mosque in Athens,” World Bulletin reported.
He was speaking at a Western Thrace Turks Solidarity Association meeting in Germany. Turkey has been insisting on the mosque reopening in Athens even though its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had teased that Halki might reopen anyway before reversing course.
Athens is the only European capital city without an official mosque but one is ready to be built, paid by the Greek government during a crushing economic crisis, drawing fire from critics.
The Orthodox seminary Halki, on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island, was closed in 1971 and its reopening has been the source of friction between the two countries since.
Calling Greece “a church state,” Kulunk questioned why a mosque was not being given permission to exist in Athens while he said that many mosques, churches and synagogues stand side-by-side in Istanbul.
In October, Turkey’s EU minister Egemen Bagis said that Turkey would be encouraged to reopen the Halki Seminary in Heybeliada if Greece took steps to open a mosque in Athens.
Greece is home to many Muslim communities, both native and migrant. The 150,000-member Turkish Muslim community in Western Thrace near the Turkish border have complained that they are being refused to build new mosques as well as rebuild old mosques from the Ottoman era and want the right to appoint their own religious leaders.
For decades, world leaders, including a series of American Presidents and politicians, as well as those in Greece and in Europe have urged Turkey, which wants to join the European Union, to open Halki again as an incentive but Turkish leaders have remained opposed to the idea although occasionally putting it on the bargaining table.