Mosque and school spark new feud between Turkey and Greece

Published: October 11, 2013
File photo of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: EPA

File photo of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: EPA

ATHENS: Greece and Turkey, which share a history marred by bitter territorial disputes and Christian-Muslim feuds, are at loggerheads once again over religion.

The latest row erupted after Greece flatly rejected the idea of reviving two Muslim mosques in Athens in return for the reopening of an Orthodox clergy school in Turkey.

Mosques have been a thorny issue for a long time in Greece, where the population is predominantly Greek Orthodox. Athens is one of the few European capitals without an official mosque.

The Halki seminary has also been a subject of controversy. The Orthodox clergy used to train in the school located on an island off Istanbul but it was closed in 1971, after Turkey fell out with Greece over Cyprus.

Turkey, a country where Muslims make up 99 percent of the population, recently decided to give back to the seminary lands that had been seized in 1943, but there was no talk of reopening.

“While we return something, we have the right to expect the return of other things,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he wanted two mosques revived in exchange for the seminary.

“Greece’s position on the subject (the re-opening of the seminary) is clear, (it is) in accordance with international law and has been expressed on numerous occasions,” Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said earlier this week.

Any further public discussion on the matter would be “counter productive,” Venizelos said when asked to comment on Erdogan’s suggestion.

Erdogan also wants Greece’s Muslims to be able to elect their own Mufti (religious leader), something that the Greek government is currently in charge of.

Greece is home to around 500,000 Muslims – many of them undocumented migrants – including a community of over 100,000 Greek citizens of Turkish origin in the country’s northeast.

A staunchly Orthodox state with bitter memories of nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, Greece currently offers sanctioned Muslim religious sites only near its northeastern border with Turkey.

The issue of mosques in Greece started popping up shortly after 2000, as the 2004 Athens Olympics were looming up.

With an increasing number of migrants from Pakistan and other Muslim countries having recently found their way to the Greek capital, the matter has become more pressing and in 2011 the government approved the construction of a mosque in Athens.

But there were no immediate signs of interest in the project, in view of the Greek Church’s reluctance, objections by local residents and protests by far-right activists including neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

In September, the ministry of infrastructure launched a fourth call for offers for this project which will cost some $1.4 million.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Oct 11, 2013 - 3:15PM

    It is so tragic to see the fights the Turkish PM is fighting. He must be basking in the praise of his conservative countrymen and it will not take long to dismantle the good that the extraordinary man – Ataturk did.


  • Oct 11, 2013 - 4:26PM

    turkey is on the way and destined to reach Sharia. It may presently appear as rubbish but surely the trajectory to Sharia is decided if the present state of affairs continued.


  • Tufan Agha
    Oct 11, 2013 - 6:21PM

    @p r sharma:
    Hindus again talking politics in area not of its concern.


  • PTI Supporter
    Oct 11, 2013 - 9:38PM

    Just fear the day when another Babur arrives in Delhi


  • Rafiq A. Tschannen
    Oct 11, 2013 - 11:08PM

    It seems a fair exchange. Let the Orthodox school re-open in Turkey and let some Mosque re-open in Greece.


  • Oct 12, 2013 - 12:29AM

    Attaturk killed thousands upon thousands of orthodox christians. Many who survived fled to escape death, lots of cities in Western Turkey were Christin majority. No secular man would target religious groups other than his own in such a way.


  • Abid P. Khan
    Oct 12, 2013 - 2:27AM

    @Rafiq A. Tschannen:
    “It seems a fair exchange. Let the Orthodox school re-open in Turkey and let some Mosque re-open in Greece. “

    Recep is doing nothing but assuring his vote bank. Supporting religion like with all the politicians is just a posture.


  • Meral
    Oct 28, 2013 - 4:30AM

    Correction, Khalki seminary was closed due to non-existant number of students! Turkey even lets foreign priest to rule over Greek church by giving them citizenship, but Greece took away the citizenship of many Turkish and Macedonian people when they were abroad with the law ” non-hellenic people ” and now they call the rest of their family members hellenic and not letting any Turkish foundations using the name Turkish, and another correction, islamic muftu of Turkish mosques are being approved by greek church!!! and they put sexy art videos on our mosques which we fight to open them for praying!!! EU is a big lie, we won many cases but still Turkish people in Greece cant even get a driver license for tractor while most of them are farmers!


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